Are the party people of the Middle East finding their faith over Ramadan?

Published July 23rd, 2012 - 09:41 GMT
Lebanon's faithful
Lebanon's faithful

Suddenly, faith descends. God becomes closer, as if He had just been found. Often absent from the lives of many throughout the year, God becomes present when the month of fasting begins. For thirty days, they are completely faithful. They fast, pray and praise God.

The crescent moon of Ramadan, which according to some religious authorities begins today, heralds this peculiar behavior, soon to be forgotten for the remainder of the year. What is the secret of this sudden religious awakening? What compels some, religious or otherwise, to commit to all that Ramadan entails...however temporarily?

“The doors of Heaven are open and we feel God’s proximity during this time,” says Ahmad Atawi. This young man abides by every detail of Ramadan. With his extreme commitment to duties and good deeds alike, he ascends into virtual sainthood. Thus, the usual image of Ahmad, vivid for the rest of the year, disappears. He keeps to prayer times, recites the Quran and observes each day’s particular prayers. He is therefore nothing like the old Ahmad who is forced to neglect his “religious duties because of the concerns of everyday life.” Ahmad, who believes in God “at all times,” feels that in Ramadan “God is close and that everything I do will be well-received.” Even prayers get there quicker. Ahmad’s sentiments are shared by many, and many are overcome with spiritual feelings which normally elude them for eleven months. 

When we were kids, our parents used to scare us, claiming that if we did not fast, God would stop loving us. During these thirty days, there is an overwhelming feeling that “this month is much better than all other months,” according to Rana Yasin, now temporarily committed to the faith. During these days, Rana spends most of her time observing the “duties that come with fasting, such as the special prayers to be observed for each day and spending the Nights of Power [Qadr] in the mosque.” For the rest of the year, these duties are often only occasionally performed and are usually governed by the time factor. “I mean, I often come back home late and tired, so I don’t pray. Usually quite a few days go by without a single prayer.” However, in Ramadan, tiredness becomes inconsequential, because with or without it “we have to be committed. In the end, Ramadan is a red line,” Rana believes. Because it is a “red line,” she prays, recites the Quran and covers her hair with a scarf throughout Ramadan. She removes it only on the first day of the Eid. She is just like Najwa Ismail, who also wears the hijab during Ramadan, the difference is that Najwa wears it until it is “time to break the fast.” Zainab’s modesty compelled her “to start permanently wearing the hijab two years ago, after previously only wearing it during Ramadan and Ashura.” 

However, in contrast to these women, temporarily committed because they believe in the idea of Ramadan, there are those who fast for the whole month because, very simply, they have to keep up with those around them. Shadha is probably one of those people who fasts because it has become a condition of belonging to a group which now she only resembles when it comes to “superficial rituals.” Shadha, who only fasts six days a week, breaking on Sunday “because it is a day off and I have no energy to fast during it,” regards what she is doing as “simply an act which allows us to blend into the atmosphere around us.” It seems that embarrassment is what compels people like Shadha to do this as they are unable to go against the current. It could also be fear, because “when we were kids, our parents used to scare us, claiming that if we did not fast, God would stop loving us,” says Faten.

Either out of fear or embarrassment, whatever the reason, fasting has become “a family and social tradition, part of the heritage, customs and traditions. If someone does not abide by it, they become the subject of people’s gossip, and no one wants that,” says the director of Sayyed Ali al-Khamenei’s office in Lebanon, Sheikh Muhammad al-Miqdad. However, is this the fasting required by religion? According to Miqdad, “in this case, this is not the kind of fasting that achieves the desired effects. These people only experience hunger and thirst as a result of their fasting.”

Good deeds in Ramadan are worth more and commitment to God is stronger.However, away from reward and punishment, the month has an attraction for the temporarily religious as well as the regulars. “This month, during which the Quran was revealed, has a special holiness. The Quran includes verses showing the importance of fasting. All of this gives the month special status and makes people want to give it their best shot in terms of religion, to atone for the rest of the time.”

Away from the temporarily convinced and faithful, Ramadan has “special status” for those who describe themselves as religious. They too offer “their best during this time.” Among them is Qassem, a young man who is always religious. He also experiences Ramadan “with more spirituality, because during this time, good deeds are doubled.” In addition to praying, reciting the Quran and devotion, Qassem carries out other duties: “I often give the to poor so they can break their fast and contribute to charity breakfasts,” because “good deeds in Ramadan are worth more and commitment to God is stronger.”


Is it okay to get religious only during Ramadan? Tell us what you think below. 

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