Friday, July 20, 2012

Bugün Ramazan başladı!

Today is the first day of Ramadan, or Ramazan, as it is called in Turkey.  It is the beginning of a month of fasting, prayer and charity.  A month when Muslims attempt to disconnect themselves from their earthly desires in an effort to be closer to Allah.

My first experience with Ramadan was 2004 when I was a sophomore in college.  I was preparing an assignment about Muslims in America for a public writing course and in my research I met a lovely Turkish woman.  She invited me to visit her family and partake in the Iftar dinner, or the breaking of the fast.  I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I tried to come as hungry as I could.  I remember eating a date first - one of the recommended ways to break the fast.  Then we had dolma, or stuffed grape leaves, lentil soup, rice, salad, meat and vegetables - the table was covered with tasty food.  I remember thinking (with my very superficial mind at the time) "wow - fasting all day would be a great way to loose weight as long as you don't stuff yourself with these evening meals".  I didn't grasp the deeper meaning and purpose behind the fast.

Now this is the second year I have "participated" in Ramadan with my fiance.  I put "participated" in quotations because I definitely do not fast the entire month - last year I managed to do a few days and this year, despite the record high temperatures, I'm going to attempt to stick with it longer.

If it's not already clear, I will emphasize that I'm not Muslim.  So why should I fast?  

Last year I fasted because I wanted to share the special holiday with my fiance.  He has sat through many church services and hours of opening presents on Christmas - so it seems fair that I observe the fast - right?  I realize that comparing opening presents to fasting for days on end is not really an equivalent comparison, but I later realized that I was the one getting the most benefit from the culture exchange.

With my first experience last year, I realized that for the first 10 hours or so, it's wasn't that bad.  After eating Sahur, the morning meal before dawn, around 4am and then sleeping for a few more hours - the morning was over!  Then came the typical time for coffee - which was painful to miss, then the typical mid-day meal or snack, and my stomach started to send little reminders that it was empty and ready for food.  Those feelings went away though, my stomach resigned itself to emptiness and then the waiting continued.  For me, the fast became most difficult in the evening: coming home to food in the kitchen, an empty belly, and not being able to touch any of it!  Once we started preparing Iftar, my mouth watered with the smell of food and I became lightheaded, but no food can pass the lips until sunset.

Only then could I realize what it feels like to fast.  I hear so many people say - "wow, fasting must be so difficult" or "how do people go without food or water all day".  What I've learned from other Muslims is that fasting becomes easier as the month progresses.  The body adjusts, the mind re-focuses, temptations fizzle into the background, while strength and compassion fill the spaces where thoughts of food and pleasure once occupied.

While I am no expert on Islam, Ramadan, or fasting, I feel that participating in a fast (even if only for a day) is a worthwhile experience for everyone (except those with medical reasons that prohibit them from fasting).  We could all use a little more self restraint in our lives.  We could all stand feeling hungry and thirsty for at least one day.  We could all benefit from suffering the temptation of food and not being able to have a crumb - after all, that is how many people live their lives day in and day out around the world.  Hungry children are living on the street and watching people go in and out of restaurants or cafes - smelling bread baking, soup boiling, or garlic frying and not tasting even a spoonful.  Meanwhile restaurant customers are eating their fill, or even more than their fill, many are leaving unwanted food on the plate to be thrown in the garbage and then dragging themselves out to their cars complaining how they ate too much and can barely walk the 20 steps.  (Ok, ok, I'm getting a little high on my soapbox).  However, for those of you reading this blog (I know their aren't many yet) and living in America - you must know what I mean!

Today I began fasting late, I had breakfast at 9am and I haven't eaten anything since.  I did drink one glass of water before 3pm- I'm still a newby to the fast.  Now at 6pm - I am hungry and thirsty.  My head is starting to ache and my body is feeling weak.  Almost 3 more hours until we will eat.  How glorious that moment will be!  And how lucky we are that we will have food to satisfy our hunger, clean water to quench our thirst and strong tea to revitalize our minds, hearts and bodies.

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