Ramadan Begins

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Iblis (Satan) said, 'Solve this mystery! I am the touchstone of the false coin and the true. God made me the test of lion and cur. He made me the test of genuine and counterfeit. When did I ever blacken the counterfeit coin's face? I am the assayer. I only declare its worth....Severity and gentleness were married and a world of good and evil was born from the two....Display the food of the spirit and the food of the ego! If he seeks the food of the ego, he is defective, but if he seeks the food of the spirit, he is a chief. If he serves the body, he is an ass, but if he enters the ocean of the spirit, he will find a pearl. Although these two--good and evil--are different, both perform a single task.... How can I make good into bad? I am not God. I invite them, I am not their Creator.
~Rumi, Mathnavi

As the sun set on the 13th of September, after a day at the Khyber Pass, Ramadan began with the new moon ushering the holy month to begin.  The fast was directly tied to the creation of the Koran, the sun, the moon, and the story of duality, Adam and Eve, sin and purification, and the calls to prayer.

That maghrib, when the orb disappeared, the mosque muezzins sung the call for salat throughout Peshawar, capital of the Northwest Frontier Province.  "God is great, God is great.  Muhammad peace be with you.  Muhammad peace be with you.  Come for prayer.  Come for prayer," they sang with tremolo, with faith, in notes both conveying both minor and major tones.  The muezzin would sing into their microphones, broadcast through minaret speakers, creating a cadence, holding a note, descending in a cascade, then rising again.

I set my alarm for 4 am the next day, which according to Bahadar Khan, the Tourist Inn Motel proprietor, would give me thirty minutes to eat and drink before the first daily fast began.  Bahadar Khan was a large man with one glaucomic eye.  Many would call him gruff, but he sang the Koran verses as sweetly as any muezzin, swaying in rhythm and singing in partnership with a friend, meditatively: "It just comes naturally," he said, closing the book, covering it with cloth, and placing it gently on a high shelf, alone and elevated.

That evening, I bought food to prepare myself for the morning suhoor meal, pre-dawn and before the fajr call for prayer, as all stores would be closed.  I wasn't sure what was in store, as I hadn't gone an entire month without either food or water from dawn until sunset, about forteen hours.

Bahadar Khan was the first to convince me not to fast: "It won't do you any good: you're not Muslim."

What he meant was that I hadn't submitted myself to God and believed in the teachings of the prophet Muhammad, I didn't pray five times daily, and so on.  I didn't answer him, but it made me think of the reasons why I would want to fast, when others were doing it as part of their faith.

What came to mind was that I was fasting to put myself in a Muslim's shoes, so to speak, to share in the brotherhood of fasting, to understand what it is like to be hungry, day after day, eating less and less, and to read the entire Koran, as is often done during Ramadan.  If any spiritual benefits came from it, that's okay too.  One further note: fasting is often a personal matter, though it becomes private during Ramadan; I am only sharing this because it is a major part of the next month of travels for me and almost everything revolved around fasting and Ramadan.

I consoled myself further by remembering that all faiths have an aspect of fasting, or doing without something.  Buddha fasted for years as a complete ascetic, finally realized that he needed some nourishment, a Middle Way, yet continued to meditate under the Pippala tree until he reached enlightenment.  Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert, confronting the devil three times.  Moses fasted as well.  Hindus fast.  Jews fast.  Christians fast.

The idea behind Ramadan is to reduce one's worldly desires and increase one's piety or closeness to God.  Instead of real nourishment, the nourishment comes from God, manna from heaven, from the angels.  One woman in Rajasthan, India supposedly has gone 30 years without real food, only spiritual food.  Milk Baba in Pashupati, Nepal drank only milk.  Another baba I met only drank coconut milk for one year. 

In the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbits, who usually ate firsties and secondsies and many more meals during the day with naps in between, were placed in a situation where they needed to fast, in a way, and began to eat small bites of elvish Lembas bread, a metaphor for the spiritual food of God, and the more you rely upon it, the better it nourished.  The evil Nazghoul and Gollum could not eat the bread, as they had already fallen to the temptations of evil, to the lust for power, for the rings.  By contrast, both Jesus and Buddha were tempted by Satan and Mara, respectively, and triumphed, just like Frodo and Samwise when they confronted Sauron in Mordor, tempted several times along the way by evil.

So Ramadan began, as I awoke in the darkness to eat a small meal.
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