CAIRO: While many Egyptians wait for Ramadan every year with a lot of anticipation, there are some people who dread the month and all the feelings of discomfort and alienation it brings, simply because they do not fast.
While it might be relatively easy for non-Muslims to eat and drink in public while most people are fasting, it is much harder to do so if your name is Ahmed or Mohamed.
I stopped fasting two years ago when I completely lost my faith, said Ahmed, a 24-year-old photographer, Before that, even though I was almost never praying, I would still fast. I don’t know why, but fasting was some kind of ritual that I just did without thinking. Perhaps on some level, it made me feel that I was still doing something for God.
Even though I was not eating or drinking during Ramadan, I used to have sex while I was fasting, an act which nullifies fasting altogether, he added, so I thought it was ridiculous to just stop eating and drinking.
Until now, only Ahmed’s mother knows that he does not fast, describing him as more open-minded and not very religious.
I know that my brothers would look down upon me if they knew I was not fasting, he said, so it is better to avoid the hassle of telling them and going through the whole religious lecture. Ahmed mostly refrains from eating or drinking in public during Ramadan, but sometimes he carries around a bottle of water or lights a cigarette as he walks down the street.
For me, it is kind of a statement, he said, I want people to know that there are some people – good people – out there who are not fasting and that’s okay. This is a country for all of us and we should all feel comfortable living here.
People here are getting more and more conservative, he added, The other day, I lit a cigarette in the street and this old man pointed at the cigarette and made a frowning face, indicating that what I was doing was wrong.
This guy didn’t even know me, what if I was Christian, for instance? How does he even know that I’m supposed to fast? He added. Ahmed explained that drinking or smoking in public during Ramadan depends on where he is. When he was in Mansoura, for instance, his friends warn him not to smoke or drink on the street because people there are more conservative than those in Cairo.
At the end of the day, Cairo is a big city. You can easily get lost among the people and they do not intrude as much as they do in smaller cities, he added.
On the other hand, Mohamed, a 25-year-old media professional who doesn t fast either, said he doesn t usually feel that much pressure during Ramadan and that it’s just something people who don’t fast are paranoid about.
When I first stopped fasting, I would never drink or eat or smoke in the street. I thought everybody would look at me, he said, but I guess I was just being paranoid.
Now, I smoke in the car and I walk with a bottle of water and sometimes take a few sips and nobody even looks at me. I think because of our heritage of being constantly judged in this country, we just feel that people are staring at us even if they are not. he added.
Even when if no one is looking, many still don’t feel it is respectful to eat or drink in public during the holy month, regardless of how liberal or open-minded they are.
Layla, a 21-year-old writer, says her boyfriend does not fast. Last Ramadan, we had a fight because he asked me to grab him a cup of coffee during the day and carry it all the way from the coffeehouse to where we both used to work, which I thought was very inconsiderate, she recalled.
Even if you do not fast, I don’t think it’s a good thing to walk in the street holding a cup of coffee, she added. First of all, it is a temptation for everyone who is fasting. Secondly, I wouldn’t feel comfortable carrying that because people here do not mind their own business and would give me the [you re a sinner] look.
Even though Islam exempts women from fasting during when they are menstruating, many women still refrain from eating or drinking in public out of embarrassment.
Rania, a 30-year-old teacher who is veiled, said she never drinks or eats in public on the days she’s not fasting during Ramadan.
Even then, I would never eat or drink publicly, she said, not only out of respect, but because people would know that I’m menstruating. I’m a veiled woman and I look quite healthy, why else would I not be fasting?