A promise I HOPE to keep
Like every Ramadan, I made a promise to be at my best
By Zal Bameri
January 3, 2002
The crescent moon was sighted and another Ramadan came to pass.
Ramadan is a special month for the Muslim faithful; a month of serenity
and inner peace. A period for self-assessment, and re-evaluating moral issues,
family ties and inner conflicts. Most important of all, it is about getting
close to God Almighty, and adhering to His rules.
Popular belief in the West, and sadly among Muslims, links Ramadan to
abstinence from eating and drinking. Sounds easy? Yes! I can live without
food or drink for 10 hours or so. But what most Muslims forget is that Ramadan
deals with "total self control". Add this factor and things become
very difficult -- for people like me that is.
Like every Ramadan, this year I made a promise to be at my best. At the
end of it I knew I abstained from the food and the drink part. But how about
the other things? Did I have bad thoughts? Sex? Bad temper?
The part about not smoking from dusk to dawn was easy. I never thought
about it after the first few days. I lost my temper a few times, shouted
at staff, argued with clients, and stubbornly disagreed with peers.
Then I quickly reflected and reminded myself that control is the key.
The thought of smoking left my head and the nicotine effect went away. Then
there was the cigarette after iftar (breaking of fast at sundown).
Damn! It felt like smoking a joint. But instead of rushing for a puff, I
deliberately waited for a few hours to have my first cigarette of the day.
Iranian families prepare a feast for iftar: Salads, juices, appetizers,
khoresh, berenj, sabzi, bread, and many varieties of each, I may add. That
is enough to cause indigestion, breathing problems from an overstuffed stomach
and weight gain. Surely after such indulgence the entire family passes out
on the couch.
I quickly fell into the habit. But gradually I learned that Ramadan is
about moderation; nothing should be done in excess. So after two weeks of
swallowing food, I realized that the spirit of Ramadan is opposed to extravagance.
So a few dates, a bowl of soup was enough to fill my stomach. In fact I
had more energy in the gym by eating less.
For a bachelor in Kuwait, having too much free time means one thing:
picking up women, or having a secret rendezvous. It's risky, it's fun, it's
passionate. And the sex is great. The eventual rendezvous could come after
a game of "car courting" (and in Kuwait you must have a Porsche
or Range Rover for that). The cars look like two animals in heat chasing
Now how can anyone exert self-control over that? You tell me. Having
such thought is a sin by itself. Avoiding it in Ramadan was most difficult
for me. I could not look at women in a "bad" way or speak to "naamahram"
women (strangers). I slowed down the habit, and near the end of Ramadan
almost eliminated it.
The effects of reading the Holy Qoran and listening to sermons slowly
sank in. Islam wants families to grow and be strong. It wants morals to
restrain human desires. It wants people to respect one another. Women are
not commodities; they are sisters, mothers, aunts. All this makes you feel
that there is more to people than sex and worldly desires. Islam promotes
sex BUT IN THE RIGHT WAY. It made perfect sense to me.
Then there were the daily prayers. In Islam, prayers form the foundation
of faith. I tried hard to keep up with the daily prayers. But by the end
of Ramadan I got the hang of it. Normally morning prayers is the toughest
because you have to wake up just before dawn. But I did it. Prayers were
a reminder not to get out of line in the face of the Almighty. It kept me
away from sin -- as much as possible.
A very difficult part of the fasting was dealing with people. I mean,
everybody -- relatives at home, friends, colleagues, people on the street.
I felt like Jim Carrey in Liar Liar! So I spoke less. And whenever
I spoke, it was only relevant to the issue at hand.
I avoided using bad words, or getting into arguments in traffic. If drivers
pissed me off I turned the other cheek, even though I felt like getting
out of my car and smashing their face. My usual hit- first- speak- later
policy (which is typical for Iranians here) was set aside for a month. Instead
I focused on my Everlast punching bag at home.
The last ten days of Ramadan are considered the holiest of the holies
because the Qoran was revealed to Prophet Mohammad during this time on a
night known as Laylat Al-Qadr. On the anniversary of this night Muslims
believe angels and good spirits descend on earth, and mercy encompasses
all until dawn.
I was at the mosque every night reading. And praying, and praying, and
praying for my father mother, family, and myself. I felt pure reflective
moments as I saw all my past deeds in front of me. I asked for forgiveness
and begged for a better future. The feeling on such nights cannot be described.
It's active faith, prayers and feelings all rolled into one.
Finally Eid Al-Fitr prayers signaled the end of Ramadan. I remember I
was sleeping and all of a sudden the sound of "Allah o Akbar",
"Mukhleseena Laho Al-Deen Walo Kareah Al-Kaferoon", "Nasara
Aabdah", "Hazama Al-Ahzaba Wahda" echoed throughout Kuwait
at around six in the morning. It continued for an hour.
I got up, showered, and without any further thought headed to the Shirazi
Mosque to perform the end of Ramadan prayers. When I got there the streets
were packed with cars. The mosque was overflowing and people (80% Iranian)
were waiting to get in. The prayers brought the entire holy month into focus
and summed my wishes and the wishes of all Muslims: peace, harmony, and
happiness -- and most of all, obedience to the commandments of God Almighty.
I was happy, content, and proud to belong to such a faith. I loved the
fact that all people -- rich, poor, educated, or laborer -- were literally
standing side by side and bowing to The One and Only Master that humbles
the greatest tyrants. This was the beauty and power of Islam that strikes
fear in the heart of its enemies. Truly there is No God But God and Mohammad
is the Prophet of God.
Ramadan ended, and I was "free to go". But did it end? Should
it end? Should I continue the habits and virtues learned during the month
OR go back to the same old habits? After all I will be facing Ramadan again
soon (if I'm alive and well), and what shall I do then? Ask for forgiveness
for things I knew were wrong -- because I'm human?
I made a promise I HOPE to keep: To pray and do good deeds. I feel like
a child saying it, but after all we are children in a way, I guess.
I will leave you with a thought from a discussion I had with a Buddhist
friend of mine who said Islam is a "earthly religion, not heavenly".
I thought about it for a moment and said, "We're living on earth, right?
So Islam orders us what to do here in order to get to heaven."