Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Coz it's not supposed to be easy...

"So you don't eat or drink anything for the entire day, not even a drop of water?", I get this question sometimes. "Yes, it's not that difficult", I reply... to which most respond with "I could never do that, I'd DIE!".

The first non-official rule of fasting is to STAY AWAY FROM THE GROCERY STORE. Which one, you ask? EVERY SINGLE ONE! How many times haven't we, as fasting people, gone in to buy some milk and came out with at least 100 other items that we convince ourselves we're going to eat but can either never seem to get to it, or we find it doesn't taste the way we expected it to? 

The grocery store is somewhat of a catalyst. To what, you ask? Well I can only think of it as a Pregnancy Syndrome of sorts. It's horrendous. Ever watch one of those movies where the pregnant female wanted ice-cream and gherkins at like 1:00am in the morning? And not just any ice-cream... a specific brand that they only sell in a specific shop which just happens to be closed or out of stock? Well it's something similar.

For instance, it's like one day I'll want Lindt Chocolate Brownies. And maybe on this particular day, unlike other days, the craving is unbearable. So no one understands just how much I WANT the bloody Lindt Chocolate Brownies dammit! And I don't want just any Lindt Chocolate Brownies, I want THE Lindt Chocolate Brownies that they sell at JB's Corner in Melrose Arch and I want the scoop of vanilla ice-cream with the strawberry poised decadently on the top AND I want it to taste exactly like it did when I was out with my girlfriends on that warm balmy day when we couldn't stop laughing - I want to feel the goosebumps up my spine and the ecstasy in my brain from the chocolate overload - the exact same way I felt when I put the first spoonful in my mouth a few years ago. NOTHING ELSE WILL DO!!

And that's when I usually get a bitch-slap on the back of my head from one of my sisters. Get a grip. It's not like I've never had the Lindt Chocolate Brownies before, and it's not like I'm not going to have them ever again. The whole point of fasting is not to give in to your desires for one month out of the rest of the year that we spend being debaucherous cows.

There are many times when you'll find people complaining when they're fasting... they're hungry or they're tired (that's my number one complaint) or they're thirsty or its hot or it's cold etc etc. It never ends. But if we look at it carefully, it's not supposed to be easy innit. The entire point of fasting is to face the difficulty head on, to know what it feels like for those who have not, to remember what you have and be grateful for it. It's a time when we ask The Almighty for forgiveness and we cleanse our souls. And no one said cleaning is easy. Seriously, some stains just cannot come out. That's the kind of dirty that don't get clean. 

Cleaning your soul isn't going to be a walk in the park either.

It's not that difficult, really. The laws are simple. Fast if you are healthy enough to do so, if not then pay alms. All through my life I've had friends from other faiths join me in fasting... at work two of my colleagues quite enjoy it. A few years ago, it was a few of my flatmates in London. A few years before that, it was a friend at University. And before that, it was half of the school population.

I went to a predominantly Christian school. Actually, it was a Christian School and I just happened to be one of the 5 Muslims there out of a population of over 2000. Every morning at assembly, everyone would stand up and sing a hymn while half of the handful of us that weren't Christian would stare silently at the stage and the other half would sing along just for the hell of it... often substituting words like "Jesus Christ" with "Cheese & Rice".

We were a rat-pack of sorts, "brown" Muslims in a predominantly white Christian school... the dots on the Dalmatian, but quite popular amongst the masses none-the-less. I'd walk along the corridors and have strange people call me from the third floor "Hey you... I like you". I was quirky and down right crazy back then too and would curtsy or wink or tip my imaginery hat to my "fans".

I always think of my friend Reza when I think of my school days. He was one of a kind. Still is. He had the ability to make almost 2000 people wish they were Indian and Muslim too. He was a handsome guy, hilarious and oh so very charming. His calm assurance and air of confidence bordered on arrogance... and people just loved him. By the end of our stint in high school there were hoardes of white people swearing in  all kinds of native languages, and also saying things like Insha'Allah (God-Willing) or Masha'Allah in their everyday speech; and at least half of them were fasting along with us during Ramadan too.

Those were good days, but we never internalised the meaning of fasting. We just did it because we had to. I'm glad I found my way into an "enlightenment" of sorts. Seeing the bigger picture. It's definitely a month of reflecting and charity. Let us not forget all the others whose hunger never abates; those who are cold and homeless and can never warm up enough; those whose thirst cannot be quenched. In the grander scheme of things we're all just two steps away of being one of them. Give whatever you can, with an open heart and mind.


  1. Beautiful post, Azra. I love reading about your faith, experiences, and the people in your life! You really are teaching me a lot about what it means to be Muslim, which I think is very important, especially these days. I think that if more people knew, or knew more people LIKE you, there would be a lot more tolerance in the world!

    Thanks for opening my mind up just that much more. :)

  2. Yes in the daytime -- but after sunset you can gorge on brownies covered with chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce, right?

  3. Yes, it's good for the soul to deny one's cravings. And not just for food. Many are the occasions when I've refused a good massage to discipline my body. I hope you'll feel better for the cleansing, Miss.

  4. Complaining might just take some of the reward away too - because by complaining, you don't show any patience. And an excellent rule of thumb to observe - in worldly matters like the challenge of not eating for the day - is to look at those worse off than you. Yes, we can look at Somalia and other poverty-struck nations - but not many of us can relate to them.

    So let's look at our fellow Muslims in North America and Europe. Look at how long the fasting day is in London, for example. The middle of summer - and maghrib is only at something like 10PM at night! And then fajr is something like 3 in the morning. If anyone here in SA thinks we've got it bad, maybe they should try fasting a month under those kind of timings.

    The purification bit is really quite a simple concept. Deny your lower self (the body) - your carnal desires and needs (food and sex) - so that your higher self (the soul) can be elevated and enriched.

    And the balance of Islam dictates that we don't do this permanently - we don't go hide in the mountains and deny ourselves these things forever. It's a simple morning to evening abstention - after which we can partake of those things again.

    It makes such sense when you think of it logically....

  5. Azra,

    I don't pretend to understand religion, organized or otherwise. What I do understand is that its important to you. And I will fight for your right to worship and believe. I love your posts; they are honest and heartfelt. I am so glad I found you.


  6. LOL! I know what you mean when you say there are times when you crave a particular thing. I've been craving Rolos (haven't had them in years), then specific flavoured crisps, and yesterday pizza.

    I hope all is well with you.

  7. Azra,
    I might have to give this a shot. Since I'm not Muslim, I might wait until Winter rolls around though. :) Thanks for sharing this part of your life with us. So many people find it difficult to discuss religion, either because they don't fully understand their own beliefs, or fear of being attacked. I love this about you!

  8. Michi - Thanks you for reading my crazy anecdotes. The appreciation is mutual ;)

    LL - Yes I can LL, but the problem is that by then my tummy has shrunk in size and I can't fit anything else in it besides the main meal :D

    GB - I'm feeling great thanks! You should have dinner at our house, I'm sure a gorilla like you would appreciate the fare :)

    DD - Thanks for reading :)

    Dreamlife - Exactly as you've stated. The Purification process was also endorsed by St. Augustine - deny the carnal desires for great enlightenment of the soul. I think as humans, we're wired to complain... especially in this day and age. Sometimes we don't even realise we complain, it's just become a bad habit.

    Left Coast Guy - Thank you for your kind words Dean. I'm glad you can appreciate my insanity :)

    Nas - I was craving for pancakes yesterday... but I didn't cave! I hope all is well with you too :)

    Angie - Go for it :D and yes you could try it in winter. I think you're so right about the fear of being attacked and people not fully understanding their own religions. I do believe that if people stopped talking and started listening, we'd find that we all speak a similar language.