A friend of mine, of soft spirit and quiet heart, works at a financial institution here in the capital.
I have no reason to assume that she does anything but enjoy her work there, her environment, the people she works with and under.
It’s steady pay, close to her home, and keeps her comfortable.
Except when it comes to the month of Ramadan.
Being a person who chooses to not fast during the month (whether it is for religious or health reasons is irrelevant), she walks into a workplace where everyone is fasting.
But, because she fears the potential crucifixion from people finding out about her rather “irreligious” ways, she pretends she’s fasting too. She has breakfast and walks in around nine and, until four, the ending hour during Ramadan for her workplace, she endures hunger and thirst.
Sometimes, she’ll hide a bottle of water next to her computer casing below, hidden from the judgmental eyes of colleagues, peers, and other staff.
Susceptible, also, to low blood pressure, keeping a steady diet becomes crucial. When asked why she doesn’t simply go to the kitchen or the canteen, she says that no one goes there; it stays barren and, even if she intends to have her food hidden within four walls, the very notion of people witnessing her entrance into the kitchen is enough to stop.
My friend is perhaps too sensitive to the wavering eyes of people who matter little in the grand scheme of things (and a lot, when it comes to the quotidian); she may be at fault for giving too much of a hoot regarding something minute, something most likely imaginary, judgmental stares indicative of an active imagination.
In most places, this is not a problem. Our society, as much as the newspapers and the TV channels would have us believe, can be pretty tolerant to people of differing religious faiths, or perhaps no faith at all.
On the streets, one can see restaurants and cigarette stalls covered by drooping curtains of torn cloth, so that those who are fasting are not made to come under the temptation of food.
And, even if the cloth is torn and barely covers the place, the fact that it is there is the only thing that matters.
It is a sign of respect, a sign that says: “Yes, I understand that you’re fasting, and out of respect for your faith, I shall choose to at least attempt to cover my hunger so that you are not reminded of your own.”
Our society, as much as the newspapers and the TV channels would have us believe, can be pretty tolerant to people of differing religious faiths, or perhaps no faith at all
But, when the clock strikes maghrib, fasting ends, and feasting begins. If you haven’t a place booked for your iftar plans in advance, you’ll find it difficult to find a seat.
Restaurants across the city teem with the youthful multitudes, their pockets filled with new money and old, of their own and their parents; it teems with families who are there to sit in awkward silence, while kids stare down at their phones and the parents bicker over whether the lights were left on or not.
And they wait. They wait for the moment when the words of God for God will infiltrate the air so that they can finally, after a long day of so-called abstinence, give their grumbling stomachs and parched throats some form of relief.
And, when the food does arrive, with eyes that betray gluttony, their mouths watering to the brim, the Dhakaites go in.
What fasting, what self-control, what sympathising with the poor so that we can understand what it feels like to go hungry? What understanding the difference between having a good time and excess?
What purpose does fasting serve when your plate is an unlimited cesspool of greed?
What is the point of self-control if, by the end of it all, you are queuing at a buffet, and end up consuming more than you would’ve if you hadn’t fasted?
What value of sacrifice have you learned if, by the end of this month, the zakat you give is not even close to how much you spend on a single iftar (and now sehri outing), on offers which give you limitless, but take so much of your dignity and self-control away, as you huff and puff through that seventh slice of pizza, that fourth glass of coke?
Whether or not one agrees with the ways of Ramadan, there are lessons to be learned from its practices.
I’m sure there’s enough discussion regarding the subject, but it cannot be the way that we make someone who is not fasting feel, as if they must bend to our rules, even at the cost of their own health.
How truthful and moral are we if we judge people for having their much-needed nutrition out in public, and then lose ourselves in excesses and gluttony at the end of the same day?