American in Arabia: The Beauty of Ramadan to a Non Muslim
The unfortunate plans for most of my expatriate friends during the Islamic Holy Month of Ramadan is to find the first ticket out. They schedule their summer vacations around a holiday they don’t even celebrate in order to get away from it.
And there are things a non-fasting foreigner could gripe about: closed restaurants, stores shutting down early, a guy banging a drum at 3 in the blessed am, grumpy taxi drivers and worst of all, Starbucks doesn’t open until after Iftar.
I used to be in this company of complainers. Being here now for a 4th Ramadan, my attitude has changed and I am now seeing the forest for the trees. After all this time, I realize now that this holy holiday is an amazing, massive demonstration of human willpower. Like anything Arabs do, from conversations to meals, Ramadan is intense and extensive with passion as a prerequisite.
One could compare the grandeur of Ramadan to a wonder of the world—the beauty of millions of people, from doctors to trash men, all choosing to fast. During the evening, the streets of vast cities are almost completely barren because everyone is home for the Iftar meal.
If one truly wants to experience this phenomenon, when entire countries are committed to abstaining from food and water... all day...for 30 days, they need to get close.
Take Niagara Falls for example; if you really want to see how astonishing the Falls are, you need to draw near. Not suprisingly, you are going to get a little wet! And for better of for worse, to truly experience Ramadan, you will be affected by it.
“There’s nowhere to eat during the day. Everything is closed. I want my White Mocha Frappe!” Get over it—order the food to go. Meanwhile, do you see what is going on around us? An entire city is collectively setting aside their basic right to consume anything during the day in order to honor God, country and their family! Breathtaking.
See, Ramadan is the highlight of the year for Muslims. Most schedule their vacations so they can fly home and not eat with their families. We think starving the whole day is torture--- to them it is like Christmas and New Year’s wrapped into one! Unbelievable.
Occasionally I may catch people cheating and taking a sip of water. Yea, a few gripe on Facebook about how they want a coffee and a cigarette, but so what! We gripe at Christmas about petty things like long lines and no more Tickle Me Elmos. We are not famished… by choice... for a solid month. Over a billion Muslims are committed to this holiday of sacrifice and I would say most are truly and sincerely performing the fast.
“Yea, but what about the traffic, and closed offices, and them forcing us to ‘respect’ their religion?” Listen, when you see Niagara Falls up close, you will get water on your pants. Quit whining about the rules and take in the Ramadan Phenomenon.
For one night, go to an Iftar. Or even during the day, strike up a conversation with a willing Muslim and talk about spiritual things. Discover the depth of their sacrifice and see that it goes well beyond abstaining from sustenance. Even fast for a day yourself.
This Ramadan I went to an Iftar at a fancy horse club. They had a DJ, a dancing horse (on the dance floor) and the fanfare of a wedding—men doing the dabkeh, women performing their Arab salsas and all done with passion and modesty. That’s right, I said a dancing horse.
At the horse club, my expat friend turned to me and said, “It doesn’t even feel like Ramadan here!” My thought was, “Man, you don’t know Arabs that well, do you?” I’m watching a thing of beauty this Islamic Holy Month. In fact, you could say I’m soaking in it. ‘If you really want to see the Falls, you’re going to get wet.’
By Brett Weer