Monday, July 30, 2012

Ramadan 2012

This Ramadan was the first in which I was working 9-5 shifts instead of being in school or at home. It is the same for many of my friends too, and around 3pm on every working day, I would sneak a break from my job as a law clerk in a civil rights organization and my friends and I would gchat about how ridiculously tired we are and how we start losing it around this time. We would complain from our air-conditioned offices as if we've never fasted before, though we all have. We would compare what parts of fasting are most difficult for us: for someone it would be the lack of coffee, for another it would be the inability to smoke while fasting, for another it would be the heat, and for the other, the lack of water. We would continue until one of us realizes how easy we have it, especially considering other countries' conditions. If I were to go back to my saved chat conversations and read any chat which took place after 2pm on a working day, I would probably be amused by our "loopy-ness."

While sharing our complaints via gchat, my complaint, like many of my friends, was the inability to "focus" on Ramadan because of being so busy with work. Back in college, we had a large Muslim community and fasting was easier. We would sleep during our breaks between classes, then stay up all night and eat and socialize. We would be able to "focus" on Ramadan in the traditional sense, in that we would be able to attend the night prayers, reflect during the night, and have get-togethers in which we discuss religious topics or self-improvement techniques. After graduating, everyone dispersed around the city and country, and there is no tight-knit group to do this anymore with. Except my family, I guess. My Pakistani-immigrant parents have a different idea of what it means to practice Islam and celebrate Ramadan. My younger brother has a completely different idea from myself or my parents. I, on the other hand, am still trying to figure out how to "celebrate Ramadan" when I unfortunately cannot "focus" on it the way I did in the past years because of my work schedule.

After about a week of this struggle, I came upon one of those epiphanies that we all get: the kind that we feel dumb for realizing so late when it's right in front of us, or is just common sense disguised as something more complicated. Ramadan represents the religion of Islam in that, like many other religions, it's a way of life rather than a "set of tasks" to be completed. I realized that just fasting while at work, informing my Christian, Jewish, and Agnostic co-workers about why I'm starving myself in the midst of a July Chicago heat-wave, and stopping myself from caring when someone bumped into me in the downtown rush hour traffic - was all "celebrating" Ramadan. I remembered that I was not just fasting from food and water but also from anger, lying, gossiping, listening to vulgar music, and swearing. These were all things I could "practice" throughout the course of my daily life, through Chicago rush hour commuting and the 9-to-5 workdays. This may even be better, I thought, because the purpose of Ramadan was to try to kill bad habits and develop good ones, and these were small yet significant aspects of daily life that I would be able to continue after Ramadan, hence the point of the holy month. 

Needless to say, during my sneaky gchat conversations at work, I stopped complaining about "being too busy to celebrate Ramadan," and instead, celebrated Ramadan. 

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