It’s the Holly month of Ramadan, and although I have lived in Manchester surrounded by a significant muslim community and witnessed their fasting nothing is comparable to the face of Ramadan in Saudi.
Saudi Arabia known as the Holly country of Islam assume an extremely spiritual identity during the month of Ramadan. It can be seen as magic but also extremely challenging to non muslim communities.
Two months in Saudi Arabia before encounter Ramadan did not prepare me for what was to come. I have to recognize that I faced a few challenges despite of all my efforts to embrace it. There were days that I found myself celebrating and praising Ramadan as well as moments of despair and frustration.
During this month faith and Ramadan is a subject that often comes to the table, and I found myself in many occasions discussing it either with my muslim and non muslim friends. It indeed help me to understand the true meaning of Ramadan but I have also witnessed a gap between what is it supposed to be and how it actually is.
Overall, it made me question religion, think about our judgment as individual beings as well as question our daily practices and dynamics.
Here goes some of my reflections…
Why is eating seen almost as a criminal activity during Ramadan in Saudi?
Ramadan is not just about refraining from food. It is seen by many as a blessing. A chance to start afresh and to focus on repairing their relationship with God. Although fasting marks this period, the most faithful muslims will point it as Spiritual detox more than just abstinence of food, water and other addictions. It is a period to heal the intricate workings of their soul and connect with their God deeply. It is expected from the faithful to avoid ill speech, arguments, loss of temper and malicious behavior. The whole point of the fast is to demonstrate submission to God and keep the mind focused on a spiritual plane.
My question here is: If this is the true meaning of Ramadan should the act of eating or drinking practiced by a non muslim affect their ritual of devotion to God?
For most of my muslim colleagues the answer is NO. In fact, a lot of them would not oppose to see people eating or drinking in front of them. They would proudly manifest their religious tolerance and just take the opportunity to explain their essence of fasting.
However, during Ramadan in Saudi, regardless if you are fasting or not you are not supposed to eat or drink in public places as it is almost seen as a crime. It is not a religious or legal imposed rule but a cultural Saudi rule. I have myself experienced it within the hospital grounds where I was told off for caring a cup of coffee.
The true is that muslims represent 24% of the world population. All over the world and other Muslim countries, Muslims fast successfully while the world continues at the same pace. The same does not happen in Saudi, and that is why most Muslims find it easier to fast in Saudi than in many other countries.
Overall, productivity and performance decrease massively mainly in governmental institutions. Muslims are entitled to short working hours (6hours a day or 36 a week) as well as they get longer breaks and a kind of green pass to absent from work for praying, which sometimes can last as long as one hour. I genuinely don’t judge that, and I understand that connecting with God is part of their ramadan celebration. It just don’t seem ethical that the entire population regardless to their religious believes has to adjust themselves to their fasting.
While discussing this particular subject with a muslim friend he taught me about the concept of sabr (patience and strength) to a better society. As he said, during Ramadan one should become a better human being and develop some resemblance to a civilized society. Most of you must agree that tolerance and respect are crucial to live in harmony. It seems to me that prohibiting eating and drinking in public places show otherwise. Every religion should accept others, and never forget nor neglect minorities. I respect Islam and I am sure Islam does not impose. It surprises me how such a devoted country construe it to be as such.
Those rules also seems to defeat the entire purpose of fasting. I was told by many muslims that they fast to understand the hardships those less fortunate go through when they can not afford a meal and have to put up with their day without knowing when the next meal will come. Conveniently they seem to forget that we all eat in front of those less fortunate in a daily basis. I ask myself how are we suppose to understand their suffering in a unrealistic environment deliberately created in order to avoid the sense of deprivation?
I think we should be respectful towards their fasting but it does not particularly means that one can not carry a bottle of water or having their required coffee or do their meals just because muslims around the world are refraining themselves from food. I consider myself a spiritual person and very religious tolerant and I personally think that those who understand and embrace the true meaning of ramadan would not be affected by people carrying on with their normal routine. I appeal to everyone around the world regardless to their religion, culture or beliefs to use it as a test to their tolerance and acceptance of the other.
Although there are a lot of tolerant Saudi and non Saudi Muslims that share exactly the same opinion than I still a lot needs to be done for Saudi to become a more tolerant society.
Famine Vs Overconsumption: Think on the problem forget the solution
Overconsumption takes place during Ramadan. Surprisingly, despite of the 16h of fast during the Ramadan, food sales surge about 10% in the kingdom during this month.
With all the food marketing targeting the occasion, and the extravagant Iftars taking place, fasting is no longer broken with dates and water followed by a light meal as taught by The Prophet Mohammed. Instead people tend to indulge in highly caloric, deep fried, heavy meals.
Controversially, you will hear people mentioning about the health benefits of fasting as well as how much they struggle to keep up with their weight or do any sort of diet during the Ramadan.
This surge on sales is not exclusively reflected on the food industry, but consumption in general. Evening entertainment rise massively, as well as, with all these family and friends events and extravagnant Iftars taking place comes the need for new clothes, acessories and even traditional interior decoration. The entire population seem to wake up in the evenings. After Iftar, traffic on the roads becomes unbearable as people rush to shopping malls for mindless shopping.
It seems to me that all this overconsumption and waste somehow defeats the true purpose of Ramadan of being humble, becoming a better human being and feel the suffering of those less fortunated.
I personally believe we need to stop approaching issues at a superficial level and start looking more deeply into the problems if the goal is to build up a better world. Poverty and famine are indeed world issues that need to be address. Feeling the pain and struggle of the poor will perhaps (although not necessarily) make us more likely to help them. But we shall not forget that despite of all the efforts to fight poverty and famine, one of the biggest XXI century contributor factors for it, is the lack of natural resources due to the overconsumption and wastage mainly by the western world.
So I ask, what is the point of thinking about the issue without thinking about the root cause of the problem? … and what is the point of embracing and perpetuating the problem instead of focusing on the solution? After all the entire purpose of Prophete Mohammed was to create a better humanity. Muslim or non Muslim is our responsibility to be more mindful about our acts on a daily basis.
I don’t mean with this post to target muslims in particular. The true is that, as a catholic I witness the same situation happening when it comes to Christmas and Easter. With this reflection, I only intend to appeal to people sensitivity and perception of the problems as well as remind the true intensions of their Prophets instead of blindly follow the crowd. It is hard not to be mislead in a society driven by money, industry and marketing.
I wish you all a very BLESSED EID.
Eid Mubarak 🙂