Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What I learned as a non-Muslim, westerner fasting during Ramadan

Eid Moubarak! While the moon dissolved into a dark abyss as its waining cycle came to a close this July, a large portion of God's green earth found themselves savoring the final portion of the holy month of Ramadan. During, arguably, the most important and "happiest' of months on the Islamic calendar, I fasted for about half the time. For a Muslim, not only is this an unimpressive feat, it is sacrilege. But for a non-Muslim possessing dual-citizenship between two of the fattest nations on the planet, I'm happy give myself a pat on the back. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, and with this being my second crack at living in the Muslim world for the sacred month, another attempt at fasting was in order.

What is most striking about fasting to an untrained eye is how quickly an entire country can transform to being nocturnal. During the day, normally bustling metropolises have an eerie, almost post-apocalyptic feel. Heavy steel doors replace the welcoming view of goods hanging in doorways and windows. Stalwart men in cafes continue in their quotidian, yet their hands are restless, devoid of their normal caffeinated and nicotine-filled vices. The day is lonely and somber, but the night, in contrast, is alive and electric.

After the call to prayer (often accompanied by booming alarms or canons) sounds, allowing parched tongues and singing bellies to be satiated, the streets become overwhelmed with euphoric folks, restored and energetic. In the moonlight, they go about their procrastinated tasks. The narrow alleyways of souks in anciennes medinas become turgid, overflowing with motorbikes. Voices send out greetings or attempts at commerce. Corners of shade that were perviously filled with those unabashedly napping are now host to trays, filled to the brim with nourishment, which seemed to appear out of thin air. All is well, all is jubilant, until the moon's mischievous face brings rest to the land.

As a heathen, Ramadan was advertised to me as the best month of each year. When the new moon arises, a new chance to redefine and revamp faith is bestowed upon the devoted. It is a time to give Zakat. It is a time to practice patience. It is a time to revisit the holy book that was given so many years ago during this month. It is a time for family, friends, and becoming an overall better person, which in Morocco, is a more devoted follower of the fastest growing religion in the world.

I chose to fast during this month for a few reasons. One reason being I feel very uncomfortable eating and drinking while the general population is starving. The days I didn't fast, I snuck food and water behind closed doors or hidden deep in tourists havens. The main reason, though, revolves around building solidarity with my Moroccan co-workers, and a desire to gain a first hand experience of a different culture. As the Moroccans use Ramadan to build faith, I used these days in the same light, revisiting my own spirituality. Some rearranging occurred, as a large part of my spirituality is based on physical activity, but adaptability and patience is paramount during Ramadan. While starvation and dehydration did lead to more lucid visuals, what vividly stuck out to me was the bizarre relationship I have with food and drink. It's no secret that in the States we overeat. Having been a competitive athlete for a majority of my existence, my food intake has never been minimal. During the dry daytime hours, even the days when I was doing manual labor or playing soccer with the men in the rural village where I was working, I found hunger was not at the forefront of my thoughts. In fact, hunger was rarely the issue. The nourishing kiss of liquid to a parched mouth was nearly all consuming. This month opened my eyes to the truthful statement of water being the nectar of life.

While the daily arguments and short tempers of those who struggled to stave off vices may disagree, what I saw during Ramadan was a month of devotion, strength, and beauty. As a citizen of the US and Australia, I found my relationship with food drastically challenged. Though my main goals were gaining an understanding of fasting and overhauling my spirituality, seeing food as a vice, and almost an addiction, absolutely played a prominent role. Outside myself, over-achingly I witnessed patience in tired eyes, bestowed by a belief in a higher being. I saw humility and submission, as well as fortification of both body and mind. In the holy Month of Ramadan, in which I struggled and strayed, I found beauty in, and understanding of, a culture and belief so often misconstrued.

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