I Pretended to be Muslim for a Second. Sort of.

Ramadan just ended.  Happy Eid!  I’ve always thought that religion is a very strange concept.  I cannot at all relate to the need to believe in something above ourselves.  I am 100% comfortable in believing that all I am is science and cells reacting.  With that being said, I have no problem with you or your religion.  I might think it’s silly… but in the same, harmless way that I think middle/lower class Republicans are silly.

I know a fair amount of Muslims who I have worked with for years, and developed friendships with.  So this whole hating and/or fearing Islam mentality that people have is really starting to irritate me.  I believe that intolerance and hate ultimately stems from a lack of education.  People tend to judge what they don’t understand.  It’s no coincidence that the most famous humanitarians in history were well educated.  I believe in being the change you want to see in the world, so I took it upon myself to not be a hypocrite, and to further educate myself in the field of Islam.  When I say educate… I mean that I read one book and a few scholarly articles.  But hey, that’s probably one more book than most non-Muslims.  And I’ve been a bit more exposed to it.  Like I said, I work with a huge ass Muslim family and I also went to Istanbul last year, where the majority of the population is Muslim.  I found the people and the place to be beautiful and peaceful.

After learning a little bit more about the Qur’an, to my NOT surprise, it seemed similar to the Bible in a lot of ways.  They are definitely both violent at times, but underneath all of the stories, they are basically all about spreading love, staying humble, helping each other out and blah blah.  Oh, and worshipping God of course, but that’s where it loses me.  I don’t need a book or a God telling me to do good.  I do good because it’s the fucking right thing to do.  No doctrine necessary.

Despite how baffling I find religion, I decided to participate in Ramadan this year.  My Islamic friends have conformed to our culture, and are not only a minority here, but a minority that has been at the center of such negativity over the years.  I was curious about their practice of Ramadan, and I also wanted to show my respect to them, and also because why not?  I celebrate Christmas even though I’m not Christian so what’s the difference?  For me, Christmas is about giving, not Jesus’ birthday.  And now for me, Ramadan has become a time to appreciate what I have and recognize what others do not.

I didn’t fast for thirty days.  I’m not that hardcore.  I fasted for the first four days of Ramadan, and then again on the very last day.  I was just going to do the first three days, but I got a fairly large tattoo on the third day, and knew that it wouldn’t be a good idea to go in for that without eating a granola bar and a glass of water.  If you break the fast, you just practice for one extra day.  A fair amount of American Muslims only fast for the first three days and the last day as well.

For those of you who don’t know, the “rules” are: no food or water from sunrise to sunset.  Traditionally, the household arises before the sun (in my case this was 5:30am, but obviously it differs depending on what latitudinal line you’re on) and have breakfast.  At no point do you gorge yourself.  This would completely defeat the purpose of the practice.  Then the fast is broken when the sunsets (which was around 8:30pm for me) and you eat a fig and drink a cup of water.  Then, dinner is served and you celebrate with your friends and family by eating and drinking tea.  This goes on for thirty days.  During the entire duration (not just when the sun is up) one is not allowed to participate in sex, smoking or drinking alcohol.  Of course, strict Muslims also pray five times a day, but I didn’t do all that.  Obviously.  I just did my own type of mental checks of all the things the be grateful for.  I suppose that’s my form of prayer.

During the first day of the fast, I was surprised at how NOT tempted I was to break the fast.  I discovered that when one fully devotes themselves to something, that it is relatively easy to just do it.  (The Nike slogan has a whole new meaning).  Like smoking cigarettes.  I think if one wants to badly enough, it is a lot easier to overcome.  Truly wanting to quit is the hard part.  Truly devoting a month to fasting is the hard part.

The second day what I was surprised to discover was that the hunger and thirst was not the hardest part.  For me, the inability to focus was the hardest part.  I thought that the hunger pains would become unbearable, but those subside.  The true battle is making your brain function.  I suppose if you’re a devout Muslim in a Muslim state, you don’t do much during Ramadan other than pray, and you don’t need many brain cells for that.  But I had to work!  I was attempting to bartend, but finding it difficult to remember orders and difficult to communicate in a way that didn’t make people question if I was a zombie.

I was also worried that I would get snappy.  Logan calls me sassy, and according to him I need to “take it down with the sass” when I’m hungry.  I think he takes advantage of that however because when he says something like “there are monkeys in the Everglades,” and I call him a retard, he will say, “do we need to get you some food?”  No Logan, we just need you to not think that there are monkeys in the Everglades!  Anyway, I acknowledge that I can start to suck if I haven’t eaten in a while, so I did have my concerns about such.  However, it didn’t happen at all.  I was actually happy.  I was absolutely hungry and thirsty and lightheaded, but I still somehow was not sassy because I felt good about what I was doing.

The thirst is really rough.  But I just kept thinking to myself, there are so many people in the world who HAVE to do this.  It is not a choice for them.  So now when I’m hungry or thirsty, I just think about that.  I am lucky that I have the luxury of eating and drinking essentially whenever I want to.

On the third day, I was working with the two other people who were also fasting.  We had this lovely moment when the sunset.  The woman walked out to the front of house with a fig for me and a cup of water, and made me stop what I was doing to break my fast.  The man had cooked the three of us up some food.  We sat together at the side of the restaurant away from everyone, and enjoyed a meal together.  It felt good, like we had done something together.  It was pretty.  Ramadan also seemed beautiful to me because it is about the passing down of values, and also about simply being among friends and family.  The latter is a practice a lot of us have lost track of or don’t devote enough time to.  Ramadan is a good time to slow down and enjoy the here and now.

I was passion vomiting at Logan about all this shit, and had a sort of epiphany.  It seems as though those who have less, are those who are the most gracious and giving.  Within the four days that I was fasting, I even found myself to be more wanting and willing to help a brother out, in a truly altruistic way.  It was this feeling that we are all one, all in this shitshow together and if we can all help make each other happy then… well, then we will all be happy and boom!  World peace!  People who have less, those who aren’t all caught up in the rat race seem to have this notion already imbedded in them.  Logan brought up that geography plays a huge role in this, and that topic will be one of my next discussions.

Overall, I learned that fasting is a practice that I believe everyone can take something from.  It’s humbling.  I wasn’t doing it for God, so it doesn’t really matter what month I was doing it, but by doing it during Ramadan, it unified me and a couple of my friends, and it gave me a greater understanding of what is at the heart of not just Islam, but people.  Ultimately, I believe that people are good, but so many seem to lose track of what is good and just along this journey.

So stop thinking of ISIS and other similar groups as Islamic.  They’re not.  Think of them as more of a gang.  I bet that most of them haven’t even read the Qur’an from front to back.  It would be interesting to see what the literacy rate is among the members.  I would be willing to bet that it is low, which further proves my point that intolerance stems from a lack of exposure and education.  Education is the solution.  Now go read a book about a culture or religion that you don’t understand and try fasting.  It will be good for you.

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