Monday, October 16, 2006

The last Monday

Today I can officially say, "This will be the last Monday I fast."

For some reason, that makes everything seem much easier.

Trying to write about Ramadan, I've run into a bunch of contradictions within myself. For example, I wanted to share the marathon-like feeling of fasting every day for a month, and within that month, of how long a day is with no water to drink, how tired a person can get trying to maintain a normal life with the low blood sugar you get from not eating. At the end of each day, I have been exhausted. But then I ended up feeling too whiny and complaining, whereas it seems to me that one of the most important things about fasting is to try to keep a good attitude about it.

Then Vivian asked about special foods during fasting. There are a couple of easy answers. The first is that, as far as I know, it is traditional to break your fast with some water and dates. Then you pray, and then you have a real meal. In my family, this has been compressed down to beginning your evening meal with a date, and saying a small prayer at the table.

As to what else you eat, there are things it makes sense to avoid. Eating refined carbohydrates is not really all that smart, because they cause blood sugar spikes that will make you hungrier during the day than foods which tend to keep your blood sugar level. I drank some coffee yesterday morning, and was so exhausted by 3 in the afternoon I was having trouble staying awake, which was a problem since I had to drive home from Monterey.

There is still, however, the whole issue of non-fasting, routine, Muslim dietary restrictions. Most people know that Muslims are not supposed to eat pork, or drink alcohol. Probably not as many people know that some Muslims observe other restrictions as well, only eating meat that has been slaughtered under certain conditions, and avoiding other kinds of meat by-products.

It was when I was researching some of these that I started to bump up against some other contradictions, because some of the articles I ran across were kind of weirding me out. Some people are really, really into this whole food restriction thing, to a degree that I have trouble admiring, or even taking seriously. For example, one article was titled, "Naturally fermented soy-sauce -- Is there alcohol in your fried rice?" I mean, really. For the record, the wording of the prohibition on alcohol is something along the lines of "If you will get drunk if you drink too much then don't drink any." You could drink naturally fermented soy-sauce until you got blood poisoning from the salt, and there would be no corresponding inebriation. But even if there wasn't that technical fault to find with this soy-sauce paranoia, I just feel like, come on. There has to be something better to get worked up about.

But then I ask myself, what does it mean to be a Moslem if I'm so casual about these things? Should I really say that I have converted to Islam if I'm not going to take it seriously? In the beginning, my understanding of Islam was that it is, at heart, a simple declaration of faith. A declaration of faith that I can believe in. It is the belief in one God, and in the succession of prophets which includes Jesus, and culminates with Mohammad. All the other things come after, like dealing with head scarves, and being ultra careful about what you eat, and getting very punctilious about the rituals you observe. At heart, I believed, Islam is about one's personal relationship to God and to faith, and that is something I do care about and think about on a regular basis.

On the other hand, I have never cared for organized religion. I feel strongly that the power structures associated with it take on a life of their own that has nothing to do with the creeds from which they have sprung. I heard someone say something interesting (unfortunately, I don't remember who it was): "You will always have good people doing good things, and bad people doing bad things. But to get good people doing bad things, for that, you need religion." If you just make that "organized religion," then I will agree completely. Because I also can see that my mother-in-law, who is a deeply religious woman, draws so much strength and compassion from her faith. She is an amazingly beautiful person who sets an example I doubt I will ever be able to duplicate.

So anyway, if I don't like organized religion, and really am very moderate in my own religious observations, continually saying, "Well, I'm not a very GOOD Moslem," isn't that kind of hypocritical? Shouldn't I keep trying to be a better one? I think I should, and I think I'm trying to, but then I run into the soy-sauce phobia, or some equivalent level of finicky behavior control issue, and I just want no part of it.

Well, these are issues that I'm not going to resolve in a day, or a week, or even during Ramadan. But at least I can say that I will fast every day this month, and read the Koran, and do my best, given who I am, to do what's right.


Blogger Vivian said...

I believe religion is, as you said, about one's personal relationship to God and to faith. It should not be restricted by any formality, regulations and organization. Everyone has our own way to connect with our religion or faith, some choose an organized religion. If it works for them, that's great!

Congratulations on coming to an end of fasting. You can enjoy food again soon.

BTW I buy my soy sauce on sale, no idea if it's naturally fermented; and there IS alcohol in my fried rice. But then my diet is anything under the sun as long as it tastes good and the price is right -- snakes and chicken feet included.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Zelda said...

Great entry, Sarah. Your posts are always very thought-provoking.

I've been over the argument in my head a million times but as it pertains to Catholicism which is the religion in which I was raised. On the one hand I feel like most religions are pretty well documented tenets with some areas that are more grey than others but for the most part what's expected is pretty clear unless you're looking for a loophole. So, when my mother does things that go against the catechism I don't feel like she's a "lapsed Catholic" so much as she's kind of made up her own religion based on Catholicism. I don't take an issue with how she chooses to worship but I do admit that it tweaks something in me when she identifies as "Catholic" but doesn't want to do the hard stuff.

Its not a major issue for me though...just something I think about when there aren't any reality shows on.

I'm more of a fish sauce (nuoc mam) kind of gal. Given the way its made and the way it can smell and the amount of sodium it has there probably should be dietary restrictions against it across the board but...yum.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Zelda said...

*most religions have* not *are*

12:57 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Thank you both so much.

8:25 PM  

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