Monday, October 10, 2005

Ramadan Revisited

The Ramadan dichotomy...

Ramadan, we get told over and over, is about being with family, spirituality, and engendering a sense of equality. I will lead this blog with the assurance that I am no expert on Ramadan but in what I have been told - and that there's a disconnect between that and what actually occurs.

For the first, The breaking of the fast is spent with family - often with extended family. The evenings are a time for family outings and to experience cultural events. In this, I have no complaint. I think it's a wonderful period for togetherness and celebration.

For the second, essentially, Ramadan is a spiritual period. The fast, the extra session of prayer after the breaking of the fast (where, over the course of Ramadan, they read through the entire Koran), the innate awareness of a religious culture (everybody's doing it)... And yet, part of spirituality is a sense of balance, of tolerance, and of self-restraint. Over Ramadan, tempers flare at the drop of a hat, driving devolves to an even more chaotic and stress-laced mess, and the population seems to settle into an irritable and twitchy constancy.

Then you arrive at more sticky points. Part of what Ramadan is said to evoke is the prophet's long fast through the desert, after which he became inspired and heard the word of God. Certainly, the religion doesn't expect people to go completely without food or water - hence the breaking of the fast - since that would be very unhealthy / dangerous. But it does seem a period for restraint and to experience what it is to have less. Yet many Tunisians talk of gaining weight over Ramadan, of the fact that they spend *more* money than usual on food, that the nights become indulgences in excess - smoking, eating, and coffee... Ramadan is also supposed to be a period where there is less disparity between the rich and the poor - where the rich will give to the poor, and eat more typically as the poor eat. Well, they might give to the poor if approached - but they certainly don't go out of their way, and, as I've expressed, the eating misses this mark.

The whole period seems strange to me. Yet, in the West we have a similarly warped religious period: Christmas. I like the notion of gift-giving, but I'm not sure about the application and practice. Certainly, I don't believe that people should irreperably indebt themselves for it. Nor that the gifts should become the sole focus. But they do seems to cast a shadow over much of the rest... I like the notion of togetherness and family, and I feel that this is one of the few places where Christmas really does stand up. I'm not entirely convinced that I like the religious angle, because unlike Ramadan in Tunisia, the minority religions in Canada are far more prevalent and so the religious pervasiveness feels somewhat awkward, missplaced or even intolerant. I do like it from a spiritual perspective... hmm.

In the end, I'm left a little scattered. I'm not really sure what I think or where I go from here. Do you have any thoughts to contribute to this discussion? I'd be very curious to hear them. In the meantime, I'll stop writing, and let my mind stew a litle.


At 11:35 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Loren,

Interesting to me, firstly, that you'd written such a post on Canadian Thanksgiving - happy belated, and we did miss you and your beloved muchly.

Christianity has a somewhat similar fasting ritual, being the period of Lent, before Easter, when one is to forego (a) favourite food(s) (usually chocolate, and who knows what else) and lean towards a simpler diet (I'm trying to recall if it's 6 weeks in length?) but like yourself, my knowledge and understanding is woefully limited.

I've just started to wade through a book by Karem Armstrong, called "The Battle for God", in which the author is to show us "how and why fundamentalist groups came into existence and what they hope to accomplish"; hopefully I'll have a better understanding of comparative and sometimes conflicting religious beliefs when I'm finished.

I agree with your sentiments about togetherness, and that those of us whose religious convictions may be indeterminate or absent altogether can have a tricky time with historically spiritual celebrations (not to mention those minorities in a country such as Canada, who are religious but don't celebrate nationally recognized holidays such as Christmas), unless one subscribes to the prevailing Western standard of out-of-control consumerism (gifting, or otherwise) at any excuse and with no holds barred.

With human creatures being what they are, all over the planet, the same kind of character strengths and flaws tend to emerge: Witness the recent offer of aid to Pakistan by its "enemy", India - setting aside long standing and often violent conflict to help one's neighbours - in light of last week's earthquake on the one hand, juxtaposed with the southern U.S. in the treatment of its own underprivileged during the aftermath of the Katrina hurricane - who could predict that in the "most powerful country on Earth", the weakest citizens could suffer such neglect (with a "fundamentalist" Christian leader at the helm, to boot!)?

The Bible says that the meek shall inherit the earth...(somebody page George W. Bush!)

We recently attended and provided music for the memorial service of a man who started his career as a software engineer in the Silicon Valley back in the 70's, but packed up his young family and moved to the Spallumcheen, working as a dairy farmer these past 30 years - talk about the road less travelled! He was a wonderfully philisophical man, and deeply spiritual in the most moving sense - it's a great loss to the community, and has given us much to mull over in terms of the meaning of our lives and how we choose to live them.

But I digress. Talking about Christmas - it strikes me that any occasion in our harried and scattered lives to sit still, contemplate one's values and how they are reflected in one's actions, express to one's loved ones how much they are treasured, and give thanks for the good that life has bestowed upon us has to be a good thing. There are some Christians that we know who manage, through the choices they have made and continue to make, that kind of "spiritual centering" on a daily basis, through their worship, through their generosity in caring for others less fortunate, in ways too numerous to count. I have the utmost admiration for them and the way they live their faith.

Were it that we all could find such a path - what a different world this might be!

lots of love to you both,

At 6:31 p.m., Blogger Loren said...

An article that might be of interest...

It's great to hear your thoughts, Susan. Carefully and clearly articulated.

I suppose Lent's a little like Ramadan - except that over Ramadan everything is forbidden. From drinking water, to thinking naughty thoughts (they call them impure thoughts, but I think that naughty's so much more evocative), and, of course, the eating.

At least that's the intent.

And that's where it starts to fall flat. It's unfortunate, but then not so surprising, I suppose. Can't exactly call it a period of restraint when both consumer spending and imports jump.

As for finding your own peaceful path? That's exactly where I want to go :-) For me that meant, amoung other things, getting out of Engineering and into the arts. As for the rest, the future knows better than I do...

At 6:33 p.m., Blogger Loren said...

And as for Thanksgiving, we had a fantastic meal of smoked/roasted fish, turkey, incredible stuffing, potatoes and such with our Tunisian friends. Figured it might be an interesting meeting of traditions.

At 6:07 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating article, Loren, but singularly depressing. How ironic, that Muslim traditions seem to be becoming more "Westernized", too. I guess that falls under the heading of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em"?

Glad to hear about your Thanksgiving celebrations - I managed the truly remarkable: I found a FABulous recipe for Brussels sprouts (even I had seconds - really!), and nearly chopped off part of my thumb making it! No worries, though. If I had more computer talent, I would send you a link to it (the recipe, not my thumb ;D )

So, have you and Tiara determined plots for your novels yet? How's the prep going for your art exhibit? And incidentally, anytime you might have the opportunity to give us a sneak preview on some of your latest objets d'art, that would thrill us to no end!!(hint, hint)



Post a Comment

<< Home