The spirit of Ramadan
I wrote about a simpler Ramadan at the beginning of the month and now that the month of fasting has come to an end, it seems necessary that I record my thoughts on the last four weeks.
Muslims follow a lunar calendar (comparable to the Celtic, Hindu and Hebrew calendars) and so the months are not linked to the seasons, changing every year. This year, Ramadan started at the end of July and continued into August – the hottest months in Kuwait. With temperatures lingering in the 50’s (that’s 120 Fahrenheit), it was a grueling month. Even the oft railed against dust, did not make an appearance and so for most days, there was nothing to temporarily shield us from the flaming rays of Kuwait’s sun.
For many Kuwaitis, working hours are drastically shortened and the days are spent in their air-conditioned homes where they barely feel the thirst associated with fasting from sunrise to sunset. For others, working hours stay (more or less) the same, but with added pressure of not being able to take a sip of water or take a lunch break. For a smaller group yet (mainly low-paid expatriates) Ramadan is a real test of their faith. Their hours don’t change, they use public transportation and have to deal with an irritable nation – a whole country who has been denied their morning coffee and cigarettes. Add to all that the unbearable heat and you have a number of hardships that are really hard to overcome. Those of fast in such conditions really put the rest of us to shame. I cannot even imagine how their endurance and patience will be rewarded.
This Ramadan, I noticed that people were short-tempered and testy. I witnessed a fight break out at a public hospital and I was, on several occasions, on the receiving end of somebody’s road rage. I had to sit through racist conversations and watch shallow, bigoted commercials. Those who were fasting were angry at the world, wishing God’s wrath on him or her. Those who do not fast were intolerant and mocking. I heard people wishing they could do something or the other (condoned in Islam) and whining that they had to wait until Ramadan’s over. I heard people who identify themselves as atheists go into fantastical stories about fasting – to satisfy a cultural expectation. I heard and I saw how uncomfortable people are in their own skin. An overriding fear of others has turned us into an inconsistent nation whose adults are unable to stand their ground and speak their minds.
Nevertheless, Ramadan was not completely mired in negativity. I got to spend every single day with my grandmother, breaking fast with her and the rest of my family. My favorite moment every day is the call to Maghrib prayer (the fourth prayer of the day, at sunset), not because I’m about to break my fast and finally eat, but because of the remarkable unity that these few seconds represent. As the Adhan (call to prayer) ascends from every mosque in Kuwait, I imagine how thousands of people around the country broke their fast together. I imagine how in that moment, regardless of age, gender and nationality, everybody felt the sweetness of the first bite of food and the first sip of water. It is one of the few times, I think, that Kuwaitis and expatriates share despite the stratification of our society and despite the distance between us. The moment is so powerful that spell lingers over Kuwait; a serenity engulfs us. Oftentimes I’ve wished that I could make it stay but it dissolves too quickly and our fast-paced lives are back before I’ve even enjoyed my magical moment.
I hope you had a peaceful month. May your days be filled with health and happiness. May your hearts be filled with tolerance. May you live to celebrate life’s beautiful moments with your loved ones.