Ramzan, Ramādan or Romjan? Sehri or Suhoor or Sahūr? Iftaar or Ifter? Hijab or no Hijab?
Oh...and should dates be an integral part of breaking the fast or not? A few of the debates that carry on month after month, year after year, be it the Bangla, Gregorian or Islamic calendar.
I, for one, am no religious scholar, and therefore do not have the answers. Even that it problematic, as I find that there are several schools of thought, some that believe there are firm, concrete answers, and some that believe that there are choices subject to interpretation. I personally feel that it is the sincerity of one’s intentions that matters more than external manifestations, but I understand that everyone may not agree with me.
Let me sidestep these issues for now and focus on my own personal observations during the holy month of Ramzan, year 1440. As I was searching the deepest recesses of my mind to find a fresh perspective on the ninth month of the Islamic Hijri lunar calendar, a holy period when the Quranic verses were revealed, I realized I had none. Then I decided to read through a few academic journals and news features to obtain a sense of what occurs in Ramzan in various parts of the world.
I learned how the month of spirituality intersects with migration, globalization, consumption and transgression. To cite a few examples:
In the UAE, road rage is higher in Ramzan, especially close to iftar time, and Facebook use is on the rise.
In Canada, immigrant Muslim women who are pregnant or ill, conflate spirituality with health, and expect their healthcare providers to give them guidelines on fasting rather than advising them to abstain from it.
In India, 150 Hindu inmates of Tihar prison fast in solidarity with the Muslim prisoners.
In Europe, mental health patients feel isolated when they cannot fully participate in Ramzan.
In the US, Latino Muslims chalk out month long celebrations plans.
In Bangladesh, an attempted rape of a minor by a madrassa teacher, and a rape of an old lady by a young boy; Rohingya refugees remain in makeshift settlements as they fast under the glaring heat; the proliferation of iftar outlets and haleem appreciation.
In Syria, civilians die during a jihadi bombardment; 11, 000 refugees return from Turkey to spend Eid in their home towns.
I could go on and on, and most of what I read was gladdening, saddening, or maddening. The religious sites tell us that fasting makes Muslims appreciate food as they resist hunger, that it is a month of prayer and devotion, charity and unity, that we ought to pray to Allah to forgive our sins and make Ramzan easy for us. Unfortunately for the Muslim ummah it is not such a consistent experience as it should be, as sin and suffering continue. Perhaps the variations and the deviations are a test, perhaps they are messages.
Going back to my introduction, why do we argue over nomenclature, ingredients, and ensembles, when there are far more grievous occurrences in the Muslim world in this holy month? How can we reconcile the spirit of Ramzan to its nuanced practices? Why can we not put our petty differences aside at this spiritual juncture and allow our faith to define us, rather than try so hard to define our faith? Please, let us all do some chinta…
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.