At least one week before the start of the holy month of Ramadan, an official notice is issued by the state outlining working hours in Ramadan in the public and private sectors. We are all waiting for this announcement to arrange our lives during this month: when we wake up and when we sleep and at what time we should buy necessities to avoid problems.
On the first day of Ramadan, we are surprised that our plans have failed: the streets are crowded all the time, people are irritable and easily provoked. As a result, work is also affected: it becomes difficult to accomplish routine, daily trivial tasks that were done before without the slightest mental effort. The month imposes its own laws and conditions and has a certain authority that it exerts.
I first experienced Ramadan in the winter. I remember that I fasted for the first time at the age of six years. My mother was proud of me since I started fasting at a young age compared to my brothers. For every day I succeeded in fasting, I was given one Jordanian Dinar as a kind of reward and motivation. And at the end of the month, the gift was a gold ring with a gorgeous gem. I will not forget until now the joy of it and how those around me were dazzled by my gift.
What I remember from the first adventure with fasting was how easy it was. Fasting in winter had it’s advantages. Since we were fasting in November or December, we ate the suhoor before we slept, woke up in the morning to go school, and we would come back and only two hours later we would break our fast with the delicious meal my mother had prepared.
This went on like this for a long time in my childhood until fasting began to get harder and harder, and the days and the hours before which we could break our fast grow longer. My family was used to my patience and steadfastness in fasting, so for the first time as a child I practiced deceit. I would drink from the tap in the bathroom, I stole food from the refrigerator, hid some nuts in my pocket and stashed them in my room. I couldn’t declare that fasting was starting to wear me down and that I couldn’t do it anymore.
It took time for me to confront myself about my reluctance to fast. What I believed was that I refused to fast due to my position on religious practises that I felt were antiquated and had ceased to serve their original purpose. But it took me a long time to overcome my feelings of guilt, negligence and regret about my deception.
And I then moved to greater and more serious concerns about my self-respect, namely the need to declare my position on fasting to those around me. It bothered me to think that they believed I was fasting and tired, while I was quite the opposite. This made me feel like a hypocrite and it made me fear the reactions of those around me, keeping in mind I was also extremely afraid of them discovering my apostasy. Yes, I really thought that them discovering that I deliberately didn’t fast would lead to them declaring me an apostate and that would have dire consequences.
How life progresses is beautiful and surprising, especially when it suddenly removes a burden from our shoulders that stole our courage. I was late in reading about and understanding religion and then rejected religion for the first time instinctively without understanding what it was and what rejecting it meant. This weakened my position and when I entered into debates about religion with someone, I found it difficult to argue my point and defend myself against those who questioned me.
Then I began to read more, about interpretations and religious history. My position became more firm and serious and it became difficult for people to be condescending about my choice and to hesitate before calling me an infidel.
I am not an infidel. I choose not to follow anyone. Disbelief means that I know the truth, and I am sure of it, and I voluntarily move away from it. The non-religious among us do not speak about their choices except when the occasion arises, and speaking about it without cause is just a form of showing off, whereas the religious are always talking about their rites and religious occasions and exaggerate these things, to the point that it alters how the progression of life and work.
Despite all these things I love the month of fasting in all religions. Perhaps if it didn’t exist with all its festivities and rites, we wouldn’t have been able to talk about our choices openly and would have not been questioned about them.
When our beliefs become compatible with our secret and public feelings and with the other, whoever they may be, we become at peace with everything and can enjoy the details of all that surrounds us. So now I love Ramadan, I eat all day naturally and make my main meal in the evening when those fasting have their first meal, and I also enjoy all the seasonal drinks and sweets of this month, despite my reservations about why they are exclusive to this month.
This month of small squabbles and differences that are not resolved at anyone’s expense, but rather end quickly, meaning they were never serious. My boss told me at the beginning of the month: “Eat, drink and smoke as you like, I have no problem with it.” His position surprised me and I did not respond to it. He presented me with an opportunity to eat during the fast openly. I knew I was in a special place then, and that eating during Ramadan was not criminalized by the constitution or law.
But I confess I find this to be a ridiculous conflict that results in nothing, rendering meaningless our battles for our human rights, and both parties (the religious and the nonreligious) and the state disrespect each other. Only by civilly disagreeing out of a space of respect can we really defend our beliefs with seriousness.