This year’s Eid Al Fitr, the celebration to mark the end of Ramadan, will be subdued for many watching the ongoing devastation in Gaza. Poet and writer Yahia Lababidi offers these thoughts, and a poem, on what Ramadan, and its associated fasting, means to him.
‘There is only one religion, but there are a hundred versions of it,’ said George Bernard Shaw, and the same may be said of the practice of fasting. Besides Muslims, Baha’is, Buddhists, Catholics, Copts, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, Pagans, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox believers all engage in some variation on the theme. The fast may take place anywhere from a day to around half a year, yet it appears to be conducted in differently similar manners, for similarly different reasons. People abstain from food and drink, or solid foods, or meat, dairy products and eggs, or fish (on some days but not others).
The reasons are as free-ranging as the human imagination: spiritual nourishment, spiritual improvement, and/or spiritual warfare. This translates into purification, freeing the mind, freeing the body, compassion, solidarity with the poor, practicing austerity, resisting gluttony, control of carnal desires, tempering the power of habit or the violence of instinctive desire, sharpening the will, enhancing concentration, penance for sins, closeness to God, petition for special requests from God, to advance a political or social justice agenda (as Gandhi made a way of life and diet) or even as a counterbalance to modern consumer culture (there is a television and entertainment fast). What emerges from this diversity is an innate human balancing system, feasting and fasting along the slippery road to moderation.
month of quiet strength
and loud weaknesses
when our stubborn habits
and discarded resolutions
are re-examined under the regard
and rigorous slowness of fasting
testing our appetite
month of waiting and wading
through the shallows to the Deep.