Sunday, September 05, 2010

About that Fasting Thing...

Especially if we've known each other since my childhood, you'll know that me deciding to observe even one single day of Ramadan is a highly unusual occurrence. You'll probably remember that I did not always get along well with my dad while I was growing up. I fasted a few times (not really by choice) when I was nine or ten, and was frustrated by the fact that I didn't have much say in the matter.

I was also confused about it. When I was small, when my parents were still married, neither was particularly religious. Oh, we observed holidays from two sets of religions, and pork was not a part of our diet, but that was about the extent of it. I have clear memories of me, my mom AND my dad gathered around the piano, singing while my mom played Christmas carols, just as I have clear memories of my mom exasperated at the insane amounts of traditionally butchered halal goat stored in our freezer after the observance of Eid. Me? I liked extra holidays. I was a materialistic little 1980s child, and more holidays meant more presents. (Incidentally, my dad's not in the picture above...I assume he was the photographer. It's my aunt, uncle, cousins, mom and grandfather.)

So when my father remarried—I was about nine—and started to become a more observant Muslim, that change reached into my life as well—when it was his visitation weekend, I went (reluctantly) to Sunday school and mosque. And on a couple of occasions, yes, I did observe the fast. But as soon as I was old enough to really assert my opinion, I refused to do it any more. I stopped going to Islamic Sunday school, avoided going to mosque as much as possible. By the time I was twelve, I was able to choose when I wanted to visit my dad, and although the frequency of visits didn't decrease by much, I was able to avoid having religion forced on me by anyone.

I'm still not a religious person. Neither is Rob. I generally feel like it's one of those cocktail party, polite company no-no subjects, along with politics. As for tomorrow's fast, we're not doing it for religious reasons. I'm not doing it to make my dad happy, although he is pleased we're making this small attempt. (I'm not sure how pleased he would be at our less-than-strict implementation. We're not going to adhere to the letter of every rule. More on that tomorrow.)

Why ARE we doing it? I guess it's complicated. I'm not doing it to connect with my dad, though it might help me do that a little. If I'm being honest, it has very little to do with that. What got me thinking about it was actually Rob's cousin Patrick. Patrick posted a Facebook update about how he's fasted a few times in the past to express support, kinship and solidarity with Muslim friends. And seeing him say that was very freeing for me. I had this realization that I don't need to let my own conflicted feelings about my relationship with my dad get in the way of me making a connection with my heritage, even if it's a tiny one, just for one day.

And I've felt really strongly about that heritage lately, with Muslims apparently being personae non grata in certain circles and Islam being denounced left and right. Like in the days after 9/11, yet again I'm afraid for my Muslim family members here in the U.S. I may not observe Islam, but I don't want anything to happen to my family and I want them to be able to practice their faith with dignity and respect. There's so much misunderstanding and disinformation circulating right now, which I suspect stems primarily from the fact that a lot of people don't KNOW, or haven't bothered to get to know, any actual practicing Muslims.

I'm not going to go off on a rant about that, though it would be easy to do. I'm just going to conclude by saying that this is going to be a very interesting experience for both Rob and myself. I'm hoping that it reminds me a little of where I come from, connects me with that a little more, even if my usual M.O. is to forge my own path, something that isn't likely to change. And maybe others will be encouraged by what I've decided to do—or at least take my words to heart—and open themselves up to their Muslim friends and neighbors a little more. I'm going to sound like a hippie here, but mutual understanding means we as Americans truly can be a "we" as opposed to an "us" and a "them."

8 comments:

tanita davis said...

Well, cool. Happy Ramadan to all of us in advance. I look forward to the whole menu.

One thing we're grateful for being away is that the more shrill edges of this debate have been slightly blunted -- no TV means good things sometimes -- but the net still delivers a hearty dose of crazy. To stand with part of your culture is a brave place to be in mentally. You are awesome.

aquafortis said...

Thank you.

It's odd how complicated this has ended up being, in a way--in the sense that it's brought up a lot of memories, good and bad. I didn't go into it thinking much about my own past experiences, strangely; it was a response to what's going on in the world, and also (I missed saying this in the original post) a way to connect with all the Pakistanis who are currently still suffering in floodwaters with comparatively little media attention given to their plight. SIGH.

I'm thankful my family is mostly in the coastal city of Karachi, and in Delhi and Bombay.

Tarie said...

Sarah! I love this. :o) Fasting to connect with your heritage is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Happy Ramadan!!! The end of Ramadan was declared a national holiday in the Philippines. No work, no classes as a sign of respect and unity between Filipino Muslims and Christians. :o)

Rachel Leibrock said...

Thanks for such insight--religion and faith are so complicated and I really appreciate your explanatiuon for your connection to it and how it goes beyond the dogma and touches on our actual connections with people.

Simon Dyda said...

Happy Ramadan. Enjoy your nocturnal nosh!

There's a lot I find fascinating about Islamic culture. In fact if it wasn't for the prevailing polarized situation (pre- as well as post- 9/11) I'd have spent quite a few years travelling the "other side" of the Mediterranean.

aquafortis said...

Tarie, I love that--I can't imagine that happening here in the U.S. given the current climate.

I just tweeted about this a minute ago, but it's weird how this has opened up a whole conversational can of worms with my dad, and now we've fallen back into old communication habits where he's happily, paternally telling me exactly what to do and how to do it, and I'm sulking about how my way of doing things never seems to quite please him. I feel like a teenager again! It's kind of funny.

david elzey said...

at an unusually complicated time in my life known as the 90s i started thinking i should celebrate at least one holiday for every religion. i was raised "unchurched" and found most organized religions did more harm than good, but also that most religious celebrations had to do with bringing people together and there was nothing wrong with that.

i think i observed ramadan four years in a row before i began to get an uneasy feeling i was insulting religions rather than showing solidarity.

religions and families are tricky areas for navigation. my wife (a former and now very anti-born again christian) and i are trying to raise our girls as religiously neutral and tolerant as possible. i sometime worry that we're doing them some disservice, that down the road they're going to be upset with us that we didn't have any strong social or communal ties. but when i think about the rifts and separations caused by staunch religious belief -- and i'm talking within my family, and not politically -- i hope the girls can understand.

aquafortis said...

Observing Ramadan four years in a row is a lot more than I've ever done. Impressive.

I think we're on the same page (or, um, nearby pages) as far as religious views, and I really think you're doing right by your kids. I think my parents were pretty even-handed in that regard, at least before my dad remarried. My mom's always been very open-minded about religion. I've always appreciated that about my upbringing.

We have friends who have similar philosophies to yours--they decided to try giving their kids the social/communal aspect by going to the Unitarian church...