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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 Iranian

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 each other.

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."

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment to the writer Zal Bameri

By Zal Bameri

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