Ramadan: the fast and the flatulent

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Dear monotheists, polytheists, atheists and anyone else I've forgotten. Here is a reflection on the spiritual side of Ramadan. You need not believe everything you read in the Herald Sun or an ISIS press release.

Ramadan prayerIslam isn't just about armed jihad and acquiring multiple stroppy mothers-in-law and violence against infant genitalia. Islam does have a spiritual side, and Ramadan is an inherently spiritual month, full of prayer and fasting and more fasting and more prayer and hardly any horizontal bedtime action.

The theory behind all this deprivation is that if you're hungry and thirsty and sex-deprived between sunrise and sunset for an entire lunar month, you'll gain a spiritual high that should last you the rest of the year.

There are plenty of Muslims, however, who don't fast for perfectly legitimate reasons under sharia (as in religious law, not some secret recipe to turn the galaxy into a Milky Caliphate). There are also plenty of Muslims who couldn't give a flying felafel about the sharia and are happy to pass their lives only fasting when a doctor or pathologist tells them to.

I belong to the former category. I fasted all my life (or rather, since I was about ten years old when mum told me it was compulsory). Then at age 32 I succumbed to a nasty illness which required medicine twice a day on a full stomach. My doctor said fasting would be bad for my health. My God and my Prophet were also happy to oblige.

Which makes me feel like I'm on the very edge of Ramadan. While everyone is getting high in fasting, I'm secretly munching on or guzzling down something. I miss the spiritual crescendo that comes with a late afternoon's empty stomach. Without that high, all the other observances of Ramadan — collective breaking of fast (iftar), late night prayers (tarawih) etc. — feel almost meaningless.

When I'm at a South Asian iftar party, I don't feel the same joy I used to at satiating my physical and spiritual hunger by stuffing my face with samosas and chicken korma and biryani and glass upon glass of rose-flavoured milk and enough soft drink to sustain burping for the rest of the night.

The Prophet used to break his fast with some dates and water. The 21st century middle class Aussie Mossie gorges on rendang and shawarma and oily Bosnian pies that are guaranteed to bring life to a cardiac surgeon's bank account.

 

"Try doing 20 raka'ats of Turkish tarawih prayer late at night in congregation behind the imam at the mosque in a bloated state after enjoying a massive Turkish dinner."

 

I'm not sure how many of you have seen a Muslim at prayer. Here's a quick guide. You stand up and bring your hands behind your ears as if to throw your problems behind you. You then stand and recite some prayers from the Qur'an. Then you bow down so that your hands are on your knees. Then you stand up before going down to a prostration position. You then sit up and prostrate again before standing up. There, you've just completed one cycle (raka'at) of prayer.

And before you imagine what a superb exercise regime this must be, note that Muslims are supposed to do this at a relaxed pace and with full concentration on what they are reciting. Relaxed pace? Full concentration? Try doing 20 raka'ats of Turkish tarawih prayer late at night in congregation behind the imam at the mosque in a bloated state after enjoying a massive grilled Turkish dinner.

In Sydney, you have a fair few tarawih options. The South Asian imams like to go slowly, though that means staying up until past midnight and having a few hours shut-eye before having to get up for an early pre-dawn breakfast. You'll be standing in a prayer hall full of burping blokes, many trying desperately to hold in their wind by squeezing their buttocks while standing. Pray to God their efforts don't bear fruit as they and you stand up after prostration.

Then there are the Turks and Bosnians, descendants of the great Ottoman empire which spread its borders at a lightning pace. Which is exactly how they like to perform their tarawih prayers. The time ratio of a Turkish raka'at to, say, a Pakistani one is 1:4. The odds are even worse if you're from a Muslim ethnic group that concentrates even harder. I once saw a lovely old Indonesian chap sporting a batik shirt and a sarong. He joined the largely Turkish congregation at the beginning of the tarawih. By the time he had raised his hands and rested them, the rest of the congregation were back up for the second raka'at! He shook his head and walked out in disgust.

One thing's for sure. As far as organised religions go, Muslims are probably the most disorganised. We can't even agree on when Ramadan starts or finishes. Some sight the moon with their naked eye. Some use calendars based on astronomical calculations. Some follow religious authorities from countries with astronomically poor human rights records. With such poor organisation, we can look forward to an Australian caliphate sometime after 2743.

On that note, Happy Ramadan!?

 


Irfan YusufIrfan Yusuf is a Sydney based lawyer and blogger.

Topic tags: Irfan Yusuf, Ramadan


 

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Crikey Irfan. You are starting to write with a distinctly Irish bent !!! Great little piece.
john frawley | 29 May 2017


A muslim friend said to me once: "This form of fasting gives way to emotions of anger and frustration. It's just not healthy!" Peace, love and serenity to those praying and fasting this Ramadan. And also to everybody else.
AO | 29 May 2017


One of the things I learnt from reading the American Sufi Hamza Yusuf was that the Prophet Muhammad walked everywhere all his life (except when riding) and thus always had a flat stomach - something some of his more weighty current followers do not. He always lived a life of privation and constantly fasted, as well as getting up at night to pray. Life in his time was much more conducive to fasting than our time, where the 'gourmet' approach (read good old Christian Sin of Gluttony) obtains. I wonder how many Australian Muslims (of any background) attend the Id al Fitr prayers and nosh up without either fasting or paying their Zakat? As you know, anyone with an illness is exempted from fasting until they are over the illness. From what I have seen of sane, normal, non-fanatical Muslims - rather like yourself, Irfan - is that they are not nutters. John Frawley may not have known many Egyptians. They certainly have a sense of humour all of their own. As Ramadan begins and after Manchester - where just about all Mancunian Muslims deplored the vile suicide bomber - we need to realise most Muslims are perfectly normal.
Edward Fido | 29 May 2017


Can we do better than "...any horizontal bedtime action"? That is a term for a base blog not Eureka Street in my view.
Tom Cranitch | 30 May 2017


The great joy of the diversity in God's creation! May Ramadan bring all Abraham's children blessings, wisdom and peace - good food, good friendships and good health!
Richard Hallett | 30 May 2017


I agree wth John - a lovely piece of writing. I had some great laughs. But I also experienced a great degree of fondness and respect. Indeed, happy Ramadan.
Beth | 30 May 2017


Good YUSUF, I enjoyed your article ... bism al-Lah - rahmani - rahim . Kevin Aryeh Hatikvah Smith []
Kevin G. Smith | 30 May 2017


The man's a comic genius of the kind we Catholics used to sport in outlying areas of our own cultural diaspora, such as France and Ireland, where humour sometimes exudes an irreverent whiff (Yes; that's the word i was looking for). Catholics of a certain age would sympathise with Irfan when memories of overnight fasts in preparation for early morning Mass come flooding back aux style Ramadan. When my brothers and I served at Mass for dear old Fr V SJ, we maintained a healthy distance from him every time he genuflected when his flatulence from the previous night inadvertently unleashed itself. And then there was Pere Humbert SJ, who complained to Grandpapa in his French accent that he had a touch of bronchitis, at which Popsie, much to the consternation of the priest, wickedly reflected: "Why; I have that everyday, Father".
Michael Furtado | 30 May 2017


I enjoyed your article, Irfun Yusuf. May al-Lah grant Fateha Ramadan blessings to you and your community. Kevin Aryeh Hatikvah Smith, Sydney
Kevin G. Smith | 30 May 2017


Pshaw, Old Tom! My mother was an arts impresario, who when asked why so many paintings of The Last Supper were in blue, (e.g. Holbein & Fra Angelico) opined that in her view it was about men celebrating together. A devout Catholic and classicist for all of her life, I'm sure she would never have intended this as either a ribald remark or a form of double entendre. Until you forcefully drew your quotation to my naive attention, I had no idea what you were complaining about!
MLF | 30 May 2017


hello Irfan. I really enjoyed reading this article. it is nice to have a small idea of what Ramadan is like. When I was a child we had to fast before Mass for 12 hrs.usually o/night.while asleep. Can't imagine what a full day fast would be like. i think we should all fast. it is spiritually rewarding. thank you for this insight.
robyn langford | 31 May 2017


Hi Irfan and readers, great article. Its funny in many ways that the month of ramadan has a few contradictions. 1. you fast and then stuff yourself just after waiting for the clock to tick down. 2. you are meant to reflect on life but with a full time job its pretty hard to wind down. Having said all of that - i think its a time for families and people to come together - air out any differences; focus a little on god; and try and reflect. I do wonder when you do go hungry - you do get testy and may easily get into fights -
Sulman Ahmed | 18 June 2017


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