A month of fast and feast
While all around her commemorate the 30-day fast, a Muslim reporter wrestles with its meaning.
JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA
I was prepared to start my fast when Ramadan began a week ago. But never having fasted, I was anxious, as if I were about to take an exam in a subject unfamiliar to me.
Then I woke up Friday with a toothache. The doctor prescribed antibiotics - and no fasting until next week. I was more relieved than disappointed.
On Sunday evening, I share a pizza with Ahmad, my nonfasting friend. "A bag of Cheetos and an Orangina," he says between bites. "That's all I have for lunch every day."
Between dawn and dusk, the stores and restaurants are mostly closed here during the month of Ramadan.
Ahmad tells me how his grandparents, who believe he's fasting, try to ply him with food each evening. Then, he announces, "I'm going to start fasting next week."
"What?!" I'm stunned.
"There's a special request I want from God. I'm going to Mecca for a minor pilgrimage and I'm going to fast, too," he says. "I'm bringing out the big guns."
"Nadia's going to decide next week whether or not she'll marry me."
"I thought you didn't believe in fasting."
"Desperate times call for desperate measures," he says. "I sent Nadia a large heart-shaped bouquet of flowers with a big 'N' in roses in the middle. Now I've got to work on convincing God. I want him to know that despite the fact that I've been a sinner, I'm really serious about Nadia."
I am baffled by the turnaround. How can anyone move in and out of God's grace so nonchalantly?
Suddenly I realize why I've been so scared about committing to Ramadan. I had performed the hajj - the once-in-a-lifetime Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca - in February, and to my surprise found myself experiencing the most wonderful spiritual five days of my life. I returned from the trip feeling a pastel-colored peace, as if I were floating in God's palm.