Yesterday millions of Muslims began their yearly 30-day fast for the month of Ramadan. It is a strange time to be in the Middle East. The rules are different. Life is different.
Yesterday, my friends went to their local market to buy tons of food in preparation for their first night’s futuur, the breaking of the fast. They will boldly walk through the day without food or drink believing that it pleases God and, therefore, will add to their “good” account which will allow them passage into paradise. They will cook a humungous meal in anticipation of when the call to break the fast will resound throughout the city. People will race home from work, desperate to fill their empty stomachs the second it’s allowed. Then, for a few moments, there will be silence throughout the mega-city. The only sounds heard are of utensils scraping plates as Muslims all over the city concentrate on what’s directly in front of them.
I, too, must prepare for Ramadan. I don’t go to the market to buy hoards of food, but I do stand before God and speak the names of my Muslim friends. I arm myself with a prayer guide and remember that as the month goes on I will find myself fighting an intense spiritual battle. I relax my schedule so that I can spend more time in prayer and worship.
Tomorrow the day will replay itself. And the next day and the next day. And by the end of the first week people are tired. They’re weary of waking before dawn to eat enough food to last them the entire day. They’re tired of staying up extra late to eat while the sun is down and it’s permissible. They leave work earlier and earlier because they’re just too tired to stay. The heat of the midday sun drains their water and their energy. They’re dehydrated and angry. Three more weeks to go, they say. They wonder if they can make it. They long for a cigarette they can’t have. They see their children scarfing down McDonald’s and wonder if God will notice one french fry. And then they remember that they are committed to Ramadan. I am a Muslim, she says. This will please God, she believes.
The same will happen for me. Each day a little more intense than the day before. I will fight against anger that somehow creeps in. I will wonder if I can make it through another year’s Ramadan. I will ask God why I live among Muslims. And he will answer.
In as much as Ramadan is difficult, it’s beautiful as well. I love invitations to futuur. I love hearing about their beliefs and reasons for fasting. I, too, fast, I tell them. Really? They can’t believe it. And I tell them of a love for God that I have that makes me long to hunger even more for God’s presence than for physical food. I tell them that God loves me and does not require fasting of me. But that he does desire my whole heart. So my fasting isn’t obligatory but a choice I make. Just like I choose to praise God. Just like I choose to pray. Just like I choose to love my husband. It’s hard for them to understand this through the veil of rules and obligations. And yet the truth is there. Ready to embrace them when their eyes are finally opened.
Will you pray for Muslims with me during this special month?