Sunday, September 13, 2009

Revealing Ramadan

My dear friend Jen let me know about this fabulous website for NPR's Speaking of Faith program. They're doing a "Ramadan special" where they've asked Muslims to write in with their personal reflections on Islam and/or Ramadan. Some were chosen to air on the radio. Others were chosen to show on the site where you can read them. Jen's is here.
Mine was sent in, but doesn't seem to have made the cut. Since I liked it though, I decided I'd share it with you here.
Don't forget to check out the rest of the stories and reflections on the site. I really enjoyed seeing so many different perspectives.

When I think of Ramadan, I think of many things, but the first is almost always my mother, up before the rest of us an hour and a half before dawn to prepare the food we would sleepily consume in the last half hour before the fast began.
My mother, a doctor with a strong interest in nutrition, was always sure to get as much protein into our systems as possible: there were scrambled and boiled eggs, fava beans slow-cooked the traditional Egyptian way, tuna salad. But there was always something for our teenage taste buds: My mother would wake us up with home-cooked french fries, still sizzling on the plate. Into our bedroom she would sweep, singing “wake up, wake up, your food has come to you” in a jolly voice, and as I rolled over on the top bunk to face her, I would find a handful of hot, salty fries stuffed into my mouth before my eyes were even open. It certainly was an effective tactic.
When we were younger, we would “fast” from breakfast until lunch and then from lunch until dinner, feeling for the first time what it was to have sustained hunger, to not cure it immediately with a stop at the fridge or the cupboard. The pangs in our stomachs would knot first, then twist, and there was something so satisfying about not succumbing, about defeating that part of ourselves that cried out to be served, to be given now now NOW!
Experience is learning, is knowledge, and the value of that knot in the pit of my stomach can never be underestimated. I knew, ever so briefly, what it was to want; knew the slight pain, the slight light-headedness that came with it; but more than anything, knew the gratitude of sunset, of taking that first sip of water, that first sweet bite of a date, sweet and soft and buttery, melting on my tongue. And as I got older, I knew too the gratitude of having that water, that date, having what so few have, and especially what so many everywhere can't reach: a fridge full of food; a house with a roof; a blanket to cover my bed; a loving mother who would wake up in the middle of the night to make sure her daughters were well-fed before the fast began.
My father broke his fast with a glass of hot milk, heated to the point of scalding in the microwave, nearly foaming at the top, and three or five dates to go along. It was my father who taught us the supplication to make when breaking our fast:
“Oh God, for you I have fasted, and from your blessings I have broken my fast, and on you I depend, and in you I believe”. And then each one of us would turn inward and think of what she wanted and pray a private prayer, just between her and God, before that first bite, that first sip. It could be anything: I would pray for a good grade on an upcoming test, for a class trip somewhere fun, to get out of babysitting that Friday at the mosque, for forgiveness for my sins – a rude word, a look of ridicule, the missing of one of the five daily prayers.
After the dates and milk we would pray our sunset prayer before having a proper meal, and there we would stand, my mother, my three sisters and I behind our father, reciting the Quran, choosing, somehow, the verses that would nudge our hearts that particular day, his words poetry, a calling to God.


Sajda said...

I think yours should have been picked. It's beautiful. :)

Jen said...

Great. Now I have to go and make oven fries. ;-)

Still think this is a great piece.

noha said...

Thank you Sajda!
Jen, you're hilarious :) you crack me up!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, that was interesting. I've often wondered how children deal with this enforced fasting and whether or not it could be healthy for growing minds and bodies to go to run around and go to school all day without any nourishment or even fluids. I'm glad the children are allowed lunch!

noha said...

XUP, glad you enjoyed it. Just to clarify, children do not have to fast at all. It's something we started doing gradually so that when we were supposed to do it, we'd have gotten used to the concept already and it wouldn't be as difficult. And I don't think I did the fasting until lunch thing until I was 8 or 9. Even then, it was not everyday, but to get used to the idea.
There are many categories of people who don't have to fast: children, the sick, pregnant or breastfeeding women, people travelling, etc. If it's going to harm you (or your baby) medically, than you don't