Thursday, October 05, 2006

'The spiritual warrior is he who breaks an idol;
and the idol of each person is his ego.'

Ramadan Roundup, Part II, by Sharida Mohamedjoesoef for the Amsterdam Weekly and the Ramadan Festival

Which of the following three statements is true?

1. Ramadan is the Arabic word for fasting.
2. Muslims, great and small, must fast.
3. Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink for 30 days in a row.

Last week, your Ramadan reporter set out for the stately canal house Felix Meritis to attend lectures on Judaism and Islam, the reason being that this year the Jewish New Year--Rosh Hashana--and Ramadan coincided. Little did I know that I was going to be in for a kosher Ramadan dinner party and interesting talks surrounding both of these religious events. Had you been there, it might have helped dismiss the above statements as absolute rubbish. (Unless of course you already knew...)

Still, the magic of the spoken word should not be underestimated, especially in the case of Saoed Khadje. Well-versed and very down to earth, this Islamic teacher had his audience spellbound while covering the do's and don'ts of Ramadan.

Regrettably, Khadje's speech sounded off to the people who needed it the least. Come on: city councillor Ahmed Aboutaleb, former MP Mohammed Rabbae, Hadassa Hirschfeld, vice-president of CIDI (the Centre Information and Documentation on Israel), and Rabbi Soetendorp of the Liberal Jewish Community in The Hague aren't exactly morons when it comes to Islam and Judaism--and all are advocates of dialogue with a capital D. Unfortunately, it was an invitation-only event for, quite frankly, I could think of a few people who could really do with a lesson or two from Khadje to get rid of some false notions regarding Ramadan. And I'm not just referring to non-Muslims here.

One such misconception is that people have come to believe that Ramadan is the Arabic word for 'fasting'. FYI, it is the name of the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar, commemorating the revelation of the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad.
The fast during the month of Ramadan is laid down in the Koran and has to be observed from dawn to sunset. In other words, my dears, the evenings and nights are yours to do as you please, provided of course your activities remains within the boundaries of decency. And when you're sick, pregnant, travelling or having your period, you are not even supposed to fast.

Explaining the spiritual realm of Ramadan is less straightforward, as Khadje pointed out. For more than any other month of the year, Ramadan is a period in which most Muslims endeavour to connect to God 24/7 by putting their devotion to God first and foregoing primary needs--as well as egos.

'But what if you are a very devout person who feels that this craving for food and drink only prevents you from focusing on God?' Hirschfeld asked. Khadje seemed at a loss here, which I thought was rather odd, because to my knowledge the Koran is very clear on that: if you cannot sustain the fast, then do good deeds, for instance, by feeding the poor.

Khadje was saved, however, by wafts of mouth-watering smells of food, heralding the moment of Iftar, the traditional evening meal to break the fast. After the recitation of a brief prayer, Muslims and Jews alike were finally able to sink their teeth in dried dates and apples covered with honey before moving on to the other courses. I guess the way to dialogue really is through the stomach. Shana Tova and Ramadan Mabrouk.