Ramadan fast-dodgers indulge in secret

2012-08-10 19:01

Ramallah - Alongside hundreds of millions of Muslims observing the sunrise-to-sundown fast of Ramadan, a minority in the community goes underground each year during the holy month, sneaking sandwiches and cigarettes when no one is looking.

They include Muslims ambivalent about their faith or outright atheists, nicotine addicts too hooked to quit for 15 hours straight or those who simply don't want to deal with a day of being hungry.

The Ramadan dodgers indulge in secret - mostly to avoid offending those who are fasting or to avoid embarrassment. Community pressure is powerful. Many say they don't break the rules openly because they fear the disapproval of wives, neighbours and colleagues, or want to set a good example for their children.

"I tried to fast, but it's pointless. I need to smoke," said Ahmed, a 28-year-old electrician, puffing on a cigarette at midday in the privacy of a windowless office in an industrial park in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Against the law

He said he didn't want his fiancée or his mother to know he wasn't fasting. "I'm saving myself a headache," he said, laughing.

In some places, authorities enforce adherence.

Saudi Arabia threatens to expel even non-Muslim expatriates seen violating Ramadan. In Muslim-majority Malaysia, officials randomly inspect restaurants and parks and nab hundreds of Muslims every year among those eating or drinking.

Usually it means a fine amounting to around $300, but repeat offenders in some states can get a year in prison.

Still, the potential chiding from friends and family generally is reason enough to lay low.

In Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur, marketing executive Amri said he eats in his car while heading to or from work and hides a water bottle in a work bag for secret sips at the office. He's an atheist but in the eyes of the law and society, he's Muslim.

"I'm sure some of my colleagues also don't always fast, but it's something that nobody wants to admit. Half of it is the fear of being caught by (the authorities), half of it is the fear that people will look at you negatively," he said.

Power of the taboo

Ahmed, Amri and others who acknowledged violating Ramadan spoke with AP on condition that their full names not be used, another sign of the taboo's power.

During Ramadan, healthy Muslims must abstain from food, drink and cigarettes during daylight hours. The elderly, the very young, the sick as well as menstruating and nursing women are not required to fast.

Ramadan is typically a joyous time. Families gather for meals at night and sit together to watch the season's best soap operas. People pray more. There's a spirit of warmth, a break from routine.

For the observant, fasting is a reminder of the deprivations of the poor. It also brings a sense of community, so even many who don't consider themselves religious or slide on daily prayers throughout the year join in.

But it's not for everyone.

"I don't believe in fasting," said a 59-year-old Palestinian-American supermarket owner from Los Angeles. Raised near Jerusalem in a devout Muslim family, he let go of his faith after moving to the US decades ago.

On a recent trip back, he was reprimanded by his more devout son, 32-year-old Basil, when he unthinkingly ate cake in their car while in a traffic jam of Muslim fasters near Ramallah.

"Basil smacks my hand. He says, Dad, Dad, what are you doing? You can't do that! Look at the people looking at us!" he recalled.

"I had something in my mouth. I stopped chewing it out of fear. People were looking at me," he said.

Smoking in secret

Chain-smoking Palestinian truck driver, Raed, 32, keeps his non-fasting secret from his four children, having his morning coffee and cigarette while they are sleeping.

At the same time, he pays his sons, aged 6 and 11, a dollar for every day they fast.

"I want them to be better than me," he said, sipping thick black Turkish coffee in an industrial district near Ramallah.

Raed said he doesn't fast because his job is too difficult.

"That's empty talk," countered his wife Nahla, 29. "It's the cigarettes that are killing him."

Ramadan violators are expected to pray for forgiveness, fast to make up for lost days and give charity in recompense.

Religious observance in general has increased dramatically since the 1970s in the Arab world and other parts of the Muslim world, as political Islam rose to prominence and secular nationalist and leftist ideologies faded from the scene.

The rise of Islamic political parties in the region in the wake of last year's Arab Spring protests is likely to reinforce this trend, said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Centre, a think tank.

Alcohol disappears

The intensity of Ramadan coercion varies.

Most widespread is the closing of restaurants during daylight hours. Alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam no matter what month it is, often disappears during the holy month.

In Ramallah, where devout and secular live side-by-side, some cafes leave their doors coyly half open, a sign that it's business as usual. One restaurant offers free soup for Muslims wishing to break their fast after sundown.

Other customers can order booze. Police allow restaurants to operate normally in areas with a strong Christian minority and foreigners, such as biblical Bethlehem.

Almost all bars in Egypt shut down or stop serving alcohol. City bylaws in Jakarta, capital of world's most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, prohibit nightclubs, bars and massage parlours from operating.

In contrast, restaurants serving alcohol operate normally in Lebanon, with its large Christian minority.
And then there are the places where authorities take action.

In West Bank areas under the Palestinian self-rule government, police have detained 10 people for violating the fast in public, said police spokesperson Mansour Khazamiyeh. Violators are generally jailed until Ramadan's end.

The shame

It's also an offense in the Gaza Strip, ruled by Palestinian Islamic group Hamas, but police spokesperson Ayman Batniji said nobody has been arrested yet.

Egyptian Islamic clerics issued a religious ruling demanding that the government ban public eating in Ramadan, even for the 10%  Christian minority. Similar requests were made in the past before the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power in Egypt this year, but so far the Arab world's most populous country doesn't enforce the fast.

Anyway, the biggest punishment for some is the guilt.

Abdul-Latif, a 45-year-old Afghan shopkeeper in Kabul, said he and his buddies sneaked some cigarettes - but he didn't feel good about it.

"It would be such a shame if my family knew," he said. "It's also shameful for me. When it becomes time to eat at night, everyone else enjoys it more than me. I know about my shame."

  • khalidah.karan - 2012-08-10 19:38

    There is no choice regarding is one of the five pillars of islam,therefore every muslim upon adulthood must fast.there should be no excuse except those who are sick,pregnant etc.allah will deal with these people one way or another so forcing them to fast won't help.every adult should is responsible for their sins.I do not appreciate people always calling my beloved religion barbaric though.

      clear.frank - 2012-08-10 20:26 "There shall be no compulsion in the religion..."

      mark.singh.9889 - 2012-08-11 10:40

      You have been brain washed

      ebrahim.adams.7 - 2012-08-11 11:26

      @enlighted apeman I mean bowman you talked in a previous comment about evolution.Only a satanist says he evolved from an ape

      ebrahim.adams.7 - 2012-08-11 11:29

      Thank you clear frank

  • John - 2012-08-10 19:48

    Everyone is entitled to ones own ideas and considerations in life. No one is entitled to enforce their reality upon another. Unfortunately when one is born into a particular religious group ones peers tend to become dogmatic. Intelligence is the ability to discern differences,discern similarities, and percieve identities. To identify the whole Muslim community is stupidity. Everyone is different. The greatest thing we can do is grant others beingness. Beingness is LIFE as the supreme being granted to US.

  • John - 2012-08-10 19:49

    Everyone is entitled to ones own ideas and considerations in life. No one is entitled to enforce their reality upon another. Unfortunately when one is born into a particular religious group ones peers tend to become dogmatic. Intelligence is the ability to discern differences,discern similarities, and percieve identities. To identify the whole Muslim community is stupidity. Everyone is different. The greatest thing we can do is grant others beingness. Beingness is LIFE as the supreme being granted to US.

  • Hermann - 2012-08-10 19:56

    Religion by force. No wonder the Islam has a bad name in democracies amongst the free people. But who cares, it is only a religion like the rest and not a spiritual faith.

  • lacrimose.wolf - 2012-08-10 20:13

    There isn't a religion on earth that has not had it's rule-breakers and very often reforms (and extremism) as a result. As guilty as some of these interviewees seem to feel, their guilt is not enough to make them stop. We are all fallible in one way or another, because we are all human. If one subscribes to the Islamic or any other theistic philosophy then as fellow humans we do not have the right to judge or condemn as to the adherence or lack thereof. Every person is responsible for their own souls and destiny.

      lacrimose.wolf - 2012-08-10 22:41

      @thumbsdown - so you believe you are in a position to judge another human on behalf of your deity?

  • diran.pillay - 2012-08-10 20:30

    I would think this is a debate for the muslim community and not News 24, the only feedback you will get on this article is religous critism. Or maybe that is the intention

      jaba.kov - 2012-08-10 22:20

      Don't agree... "even for the 10% Christian minority" is forced to keep or face fines....that sounds like forced, criminal or even reminds me of apartheid. Live and let live or face the wrath of the western media and it's freedoms which are not up to debate. This is South Africa and we can questio..

      abusufyaan.ahmad - 2012-08-11 10:28

      very correct thinking sir.

  • marumobongani - 2012-08-10 20:39

    Well its devotion

  • diran.pillay - 2012-08-10 20:41

    If you want to write about something write about how drugs is destroying the muslim/indian youth in SA!

      jezelle.fourie - 2012-08-11 08:33

      Not all Indians are Muslim, although this article has made it clear that if Muslims have their way, all Indians would be forced to be. Furthermore, it is not only the Indian community affected by drugs, although I gather that by Indian, you meant Muslim and that they are the only people you care about. Then maybe you should go seek sympathy on the Muslim forum you mentioned in your previous post. Seeing as you said that you don't think this debate concerns the general, non- Muslim populace.

  • mbuyiswa.mrasi - 2012-08-10 21:34

    Guess news24 is just another media house that wants to divide the muslim ummah, they feel america n their western allies aren't doing enough. Well as for me this story, has done any harm still a muslim and inshallah remain so until the day of Qiyama!.

      enlightened.bowman - 2012-08-11 08:37

      Just what are you saying here?

  • Grant Howard - 2012-08-11 07:39

    I don't see any difference between this and many western "Christian" states that outlaw homosexual marriages. The great, democratic, land of the free USA is a perfect example, barring one or two states. So Christians, leave Muslims alone and worry about your own archaic beliefs.

      jezelle.fourie - 2012-08-11 08:47

      You say that as if Muslims aren't on that boat as well. I agree that Christianity has a large, hypocritical following but I can't think of any majority Christian countries where you are sent to jail for not following their laws, regardless of your religious views. Or where different races and females are openly looked down upon because it is legal. I cannot believe the world tolerates this religion to practice out in the open. Democracy? By that reasoning, murderers and pedophiles and racists have the right to be who they are too.

  • aniel.soma - 2012-08-11 09:13

    you can cheat others as often as you like but never yourself!!

  • JNaMolefe - 2012-08-11 11:22

    Born into the religions, is too complicated for you to understand. If you choose Muslim, you will not be allowed to eat during daylight in Ramadan fast, but choose Christian, you are allowed to eat anything, everything, and you are free because the world is YOURS.

  • erich.goosen - 2012-08-11 12:25

    So good to see that there are still a few vulnerable Moslem human beings.

  • enlightened.bowman - 2012-08-11 12:40

    ebrahim.adams: Boooh!!

  • enlightened.bowman - 2012-08-11 12:44

    Jokes aside. I have a number of Muslim customers that "religiously" obet their prayer times and Ramadan and s on. I just find it dificult to understand that whilst taking into account the true idea of giving, these very same people are the worst slave drivers I have as customers, many actually force their staff to work overtima to compensate. Pleaee anyone, don't argue as I have no time to pursue these issues, I am merely pointing out the facts as I have observed them

  • enlightened.bowman - 2012-08-11 12:56

    Geert Wilders.Let him open your eyes to Islam.

  • enlightened.bowman - 2012-08-11 12:58

    Yes Ebrahim.Adams.7 I have an I.Q. above a cabbage, I do indeed believe we evolved from lower species. The problem is you people evolved INTO one.

  • - 2012-08-11 14:13

    If one is not allowed the "free will" to adhere, or not, then there is no virtue in adhering by force.

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