A Month of Not Fasting

Wednesday, 21 June 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by Krista Riley

The first few years I fasted, I used to get a little irritated with friends who lamented the sometimes anti-climactic Canadian Ramadans that paled in comparison to Ramadan “back home” in Pakistan, Egypt, or Indonesia.  I mean, I could understand what they meant, and I knew it wasn’t a comment on my experience.  Fasting as a minority when the people around you might not know or care that it’s Ramadan, and breaking fast alone or with a couple roommates, definitely sounded less exciting than being somewhere that the streets come alive at sunset and the festive atmosphere lasts long into the evening.  At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of bitterness at the complaint that Ramadan in Canada didn’t “feel like Ramadan.”  

For me, Ramadan in Canada was Ramadan, the only kind of Ramadan I’d known.  And yet, it seemed at times like I was being told that there was something less real or authentic about my experience of what Ramadan “felt like,” as if Ramadan as I experienced it was only a substitute for something more real that remained out of my reach.  I had come to enjoy and appreciate the serenity of solo suhoors and iftars, and I resented the suggestion that this quiet and introspective approach to the month was only a mediocre replacement for the “real” Ramadan.

I’ve been thinking of that over the last few years of not being able to fast because of some health issues (all is good alhamdulillah; fasting just isn’t something I can do right now).  When someone asks me how Ramadan is going, I tend to feel a need to clarify that I’m not fasting, and often add that it doesn’t really feel like Ramadan.  But that framing makes me uncomfortable.  I don’t want to feel like I’m getting a next-best-thing Ramadan, a consolation prize Ramadan, just because I’m not fasting.  This is my Ramadan this year, the only kind of Ramadan I can have at the moment. For many people, Ramadan has never meant fasting, because chronic health conditions mean that they have never fasted, and never will. This is entirely in keeping with religious rulings around Ramadan, many of which make it very clear that, for those for whom fasting would be unhealthy, not fasting is not only an option but is in in fact the best option. In other words, this isn’t about opting out of Ramadan; it’s about observing Ramadan in the ways best aligned with one’s body and individual needs.

Even so, when Ramadan is almost always defined primarily as a month of fasting, it’s hard not to feel like anything else is at best an inferior substitute. So I’ve been wondering: how do we define Ramadan in a way that encompasses fasting but does not depend on it?

I know the usual answers here.  Fasting during Ramadan doesn’t only mean fasting from food, for instance; it also means fasting from anger and backbiting and anything else that harms our relationship with the Divine.  And Ramadan is supposed to be primarily a month of taqwa, or God-consciousness; fasting is just a means to an end.  These reminders help, but they don’t really solve the issue.  Even if Ramadan is, in theory, about more than abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours, it is generally defined as a month of fasting, as a time when Muslims around the world are fasting and breaking fast together, and so on.  The idea of fasting from other things still starts with the metaphor of fasting from food, assuming the fast from food to be an embodied reminder of the other things from which we should be abstaining, which isn’t true for all of us.  It’s hard to focus on the metaphorical dimensions of fasting when discussions about Ramadan and religious events throughout the month are so centred on the literal physical fast.

This dilemma was hammered home to me last year when I spoke to the elderly father of a friend, a man who has been incredibly active in his local religious community over the last several decades. He was unable to fast because of a number of health problems, which he told me so much sadness in his voice, adding that he hoped that Allah would forgive him. This from someone who could have been the poster child for exemptions from fasting because of age and health, who had fasted almost every Ramadan of his life, and who was still spending much of his Ramadan in prayer and other forms of worship. His concern about being forgiven, as if he was doing something wrong, stuck with me. Yes, we can say that Ramadan is about taqwa and not only about fasting, but that only really works if we can find ways to highlight other paths to taqwa, not only that of fasting.

Since joining the non-fasting Ramadan club, I’ve been struck by the number of people I’m encountering who are also not able to fast. In the past few years, I have spoken to so many people who can’t fast, whether because of pregnancy or nursing, or because of mental or physical health issues.  In some cases, these are people I know well, but who didn’t mention they weren’t fasting until I or someone else had also stated that we weren’t fasting.  I’m talking from small sample sizes without any actual statistical significance, but it seems like in any group I’ve been in, at least 20% of people there aren’t fasting, sometimes more.  In other words, not fasting may be a minority experience, but we’re actually a pretty large minority.  It just doesn’t always feel like there’s room to talk about our Ramadan experiences on their own terms, rather than as deviations from the “real” Ramadan experience.

When Ramadan is talked about mainly as a month of fasting, the number of people left out of that is actually fairly substantial, even if we don’t count the very large percentage of the population who miss about a week of fasting while on their periods.  And this feeling of being left out matters. The reasons that many of us have for not fasting are often very personal and painful in themselves, even before the feeling of disconnection from what can be such a powerful month. When Ramadan is about community for so many people, being excluded from that sense of communal practice can really sting, a feeling I have heard echoed over and over from friends and acquaintances who have talked about dreading Ramadan for this reason.

This idea of dreading Ramadan might highlight some of the stakes involved. If this sense of grief and alienation from the supposed “real” experience of Ramadan is so great that people actually come to dread the month, then maybe there needs to be another way to talk about it. Rather than saying Ramadan is a month of fasting, with only a footnote that not everybody fasts or is expected to, I would love to see shifts within the Muslim community as a whole talking about what Ramadan means. Of course this can include fasting for many, but without excluding the fact that for many others, it might never be a month of fasting, and yet it’s still a holy month, even for us.

A dramatic sunset I caught while wandering around Quebec City in early Ramadan.

One year when I was able to fast, I met up with a non-Muslim friend of mine who I’d known for many years. She was asking about Ramadan and its importance to me, and I found myself comparing it to a kind of retreat, without having to go anywhere. Instead, the act of fasting brought me so far outside of my usual routine that I was able to look at my life from a bit of a distance, examine my habits and the people I spent time with, and think about the choices I made in terms of how I spent my time and energy. It was also a time to push myself towards the personal qualities I hope to deepen in myself and to make a point of spending time on the spiritual practices that hold meaning for me.

It’s much harder to find that sense of critical distance from my normal habits and that constant reminder of the sacredness of this month when I’m not fasting. It’s painful when speakers at religious events (or on social media) talk about the blessings of this month when we are “all” fasting, language that suggests that maybe this month’s blessings are less accessible to me and to so many others. 

I’m still working on finding new paths through this month. I haven’t yet found a way of changing up my routine or engaging in other kinds of rituals that works in the way fasting does. Intellectually, I know it’s not true that Ramadan’s blessings are reserved only for those fasting. I know, even, that there is blessing in eating during Ramadan days for those who need to. I hope that all of us, whether fasting or not, can find ways to talk about this time of year that encompass more experiences so that no one feels that their Ramadan is only a poor substitute for the real thing.

Battling Nicely in Ramadan

Tuesday, 20 June 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by shireen

Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar is a powerful time. The Qur’an was revealed during this month. For those who choose and are able to, fasting is a prescribed form of worship and what I consider a spiritually and physically cleansing tool. But the month of Ramadan is also a month in which the first generation of Muslims fought tirelessly. They fought against oppression and injustice. They fought for their rights and religious expression in a time and place, where their existence was doubted and resented.  The 17th of Ramadan is the anniversary of the Battle of Badr. We know that the the Battle of Tabuk, Ain Jalut and Hattin were also fought during this month.

Yes, this is a month where we are in a race to beat our nafs, control our desires and aspire to be better Muslims – and more compassionate humans. But it is also a time to ensure that we feed the need to protect ourselves and our spaces.

Yes, this is the justification I use on the pitch when I am playing soccer. I am an aggressive player and I play a forward position, so my job is to attack. If I get caught up against a defender, I am not going to back down.

My usual commentary after missing a shot or offering a pass that is weak or unfinished (there may be profanity involved…) is something I am working on.

I swear sometimes, on the field and off.

But this Ramadan, I have made a very conscious attempt to NOT swear. It’s a small thing, but one that I feel I can stick too. I have even tried not to text or type out swear words. I am trying to behave. But I don’t always resist.

On the pitch, if an opposing player is tight up on me and her elbows are in my rib cage during one of our corner kicks, because I am in the 6-yard box hoping to pounce, then I will push back. I will push hard.

Last week, at one of my matches, there was such a defender. She was firmly pressing against me and showed no signs of relenting – also her job. But she was being extra nasty because the first of two goals my team scored was by me – off an amazingly perfect pass from my teammate, Su. That particular defender had moved away from me, leaving me open for advancement and proper placement for an easy finish. Before I struck it in, I had a nanosecond to make du’a – usually along the lines of “YA RAB. PLEASE DO NOT LET ME MISS THIS SHOT”.

I figured the defender was probably annoyed. I have no confirmation of this other than 35 years of playing experience.  But my goal was on her. She had left me unmarked and I finished.

Inevitably, she was going to be physical with me. She was going to send me wordless messages that it was her space and I would not score again. I was going to reciprocate by being a persistent attacker and not give any fu..- er, concerns.

This whole time, the sun was beautifully setting around the pitch. I knew my family was feasting on the samosas and fruit salad I had prepared before leaving for my match.

Fellow Muslims in the community were prostrating in salah and making du’a in this magical moment when the sky is many beautiful shades of hues with streaks of rose and tangerine. I was sweaty on the pitch, leaning into a woman in a messy blond ponytail who clearly disliked me and who had stepped on my feet more than once “by accident”. It is Ramadan so I did not respond as I might have by hacking at her shins purely unintentionally.

Photo provided by the author.

I tried to purify my behaviour during the month of forgiveness with repentance and sincere prayer. But I see nothing contradictory in playing hard and not giving her a moment of respite. It was not the time for me to allow her to oppress my movements and my attempt to score. I did not speak to her or utter some of the quiet curses I reserve for moments like these. I stayed quiet. Not engaging or firing off my mouth is my own personal jihad. I was constantly encouraging myself to stick to my game and ignore her feeble attempts to incite me. She was making rude comments to other players about me – without actually speaking to me. I call this vocally subtweeting. She was muttering under her breath.

Close to the middle of the second half, we had conceded two quick goals which brought the score to 3-1, for them. They were getting cocky. And this allowed her to become too confident in her own strategy.

At one point, a teammate crossed the ball to me and I was unable to sprint to it first down the field. She made it there first and I tried to beat her as she shielded the ball. This happened more than once. And each time, our encounters got more and more aggressive. Perhaps if my cardio was stronger I could just have gotten to the ball faster and not had to worry about this. But the reality is that I could not. So, we tussled. Sometimes she won and cleared the ball and sometimes I won and was able to pull it back from her feet. Every single time her pushes got harder.

Sometimes, in other matches, I have friendly chats with the defenders who guard me; we share a laugh or a comment. It’s a great league and most of the players are lovely. Not this one.

At one point I chased her down the pitch and she moved to cut off my angle. I tried to reach the ball through her legs, essentially an illegal tackle. She tripped and fell on her face. They were awarded a free kick. I did not get booked with a yellow card so it wasn’t that grave of an assault. I walked back and gave her the mandatory 10 yards required. I did not apologize. This was part of the play. I thought about offering a short “sorry about that” but she was busy shooting her mouth off about me and I changed my mind. My teammate Margaret scored shortly after that, bringing us to 3-2. I assisted on that goal, more of a deflection off my shin pad. But the defender was not there. Again. I relished this moment because although I am supposed to be kind and generous, I am human. And I wanted to beat her. Specifically her. I don’t think this is contradictory to any of the principles of the blessed month.

Unfortunately we were not able to win this particular battle. The final score was 3-2 for them.

In all of this play, remembrance and gratitude to The Creator of the Worlds, who, has let me play after countless injuries and decades. Allah swt has blessed me with a team I enjoy tremendously in a sport I love. He granted me another small blessing of seeing this bitter defender face plant into the turf.

I know it is Ramadan and I should want good for my neighbours and wider community. But I can’t lie and say that seeing her tumble onto the ground made me feel bad. It did not.

There was something deliciously gratifying about her flying forward over the ball. Allah is most Merciful and I hope He likes how I fight on the pitch. May He forgive me for my wrongdoing and give me continued strength to fight tyrannical and nonsensical defenders. Ameen

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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

The battle for Raqqa, a symbolic city for the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, is underway with ever-increasing dangers to civilian populations caught in the cross-fire of ISIS and the advancing Kurd-led Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by air strikes of the US-led coalition.

Israeli Occupied USA

Monday, 19 June 2017 11:01 am
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

18 Jun 2017 – I, who happen to be a US citizen, spent 40 hours on grueling travel between Palestine and the USA and my documents (and luggage) were checked 15-20 times along the way. US security agents were at the exit from the Amman-Chicago flight waiting for me checking IDs and when the one checking my ID announced “we got him” loud enough for the other passenger to hear, four of them escorted me to get my checked-in luggage and then to a special security area where agents went through everything I had thoroughly. They looked through my note book/diary and also copied my speaking schedule.
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

14 Jun 2017 - The Open Source Drug Discovery project, launched in 2008 by biophysicist Samir Brahmachari, aims to develop low-cost treatments for neglected diseases using an open-source approach. Brahmachari is founding director of India’s Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology.
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

13 junho 2017 - Associo-me ao Frei Betto na homenagem de dois grandes amigos comuns que tínhamos e que concluiram, na semana passada, a sua peregrinação por este mundo: o teólogo e sociólogo belga vivendo no Equador, François Hourtart e o ex-chanceler da Nicaragua e ex-presidente da ONU 2008-2009, o padre Miguel d’Escoto. Foram os servos dos oprimidos duante toda a vida. Dele aprendemos a política unida à espiritualidade e a reconhecer a diplomacia como caminho para a paz entre os povos.

License to Poison!

Monday, 19 June 2017 11:01 am
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Fails to Protect Troops, Residents, and Visitors from Military Radiation on Hawaii Island
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

Sartre was offered, the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964 for his autobiography, Words, though he subsequently rejected the award based on his own notions of his integrity as a writer.
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

There have been a number of alarming incidents of incitement of intercommunal tension and religious violence since my last update. In April, extremist Buddhist nationalists reportedly pressured authorities to close two Islamic schools in Yangon that traditionally have served as a prayer site, with no consultation and investigation. That they remain closed through Ramadan, a sacred month for Muslims when they not only observe the fasting but are also encouraged to conduct additional prayers, has resulted in a sense of greater isolation amongst the community.
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

This jointly authored essay was initially published in The Hill on May 30, 2017 under the title, Averting the Ticking Time Bomb of Nukes in North Korea. We did not choose such a title that is doubly misleading: our contention is not that North Korea is the core of the problem, but rather the retention of nuclear weapons by all of the states pose both crises in the context of counter-proliferation geopolitics and with respect to the possession, deployment, and development of the weaponry itself; a second objection is with the title given the piece by editors at The Hill. While acknowledging the practice of media outlets to decide on titles without seeking prior approval from authors, this title is particularly objectionable to me. The term ‘nukes’ gives an almost friendly shorthand to these most horrific of weapons, and strikes a tone that trivializes what should be regarded at all times with solemnity.
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

Conditions in Gaza are worsening, with grave consequences for both human health and the environment due to untreated wastewater. Worse still, Israel has announced it will cut the electricity it supplies to Gaza by nearly half.
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

14 Jun 2017 - Father Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, who died a few days ago, was a Catholic priest and former president of the UN General Assembly. The Nicaraguan diplomat was also a leading voice of conscience on Middle East peace — as well as a cherished friend, loved and admired by both of us, who became an inspirational figure to many around the world.

Self-Determination and Peace

Monday, 19 June 2017 11:00 am
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

Self-determination is no guarantee that people will always make the optimal decision. But if they make a mistake, it is their own mistake, and they have nobody else to blame. They will learn from their mistake and make a better choice next time. However, if a central government forces them to do something against their will, and they suffer as a consequence, they will naturally turn their anger against that government. Self-determination helps avoid such conflicts.
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

The first Yoga Day was celebrated on 21 June 2015. Yoga is increasingly being practiced in many parts of the world. What is its significance in the contemporary world? One does not need to be a religious person to enjoy the benefits of Yoga… Yoga is for everyone -- for promotion of peace, harmony, health and goodwill for all.

Donald Trump Is Making Europe Liberal Again

Monday, 19 June 2017 11:00 am
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

Donald Trump promised to "Make America Great Again," but he might instead be "Making Europe Liberal Again." Counter to the prevailing narrative of a swing towards right-wing parties, Silver compares politics in several European countries and finds it has become more difficult to make the case that a nationalist tide is on the rise.
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

People with albinism in Africa face a range of prejudices and social stigmas. They are often dismissed as belonging to another race, or as ghosts or spirits. My research confirms this. The research looked at the role of the media in protecting the human rights of people with albinism.

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