By Niveen Khalil
“Not a single thing to eat or drink?” they ask incredulously. “Yup, not even water,” I respond.
It is always a revelation for my friends and American family to find out how strict fasting rules are for Muslims. They are all, of course, familiar with abstinence in Lent, when you give up chocolate or wine or any other such craving for 40 days before Easter, but nothing so radical as not even chewing gum or a sip of water from sunrise to sunset.
The good month of Ramadan is here again and I am bracing myself to fast until 9pm or so. I, of course, had to Google the Ramadan dates and fasting hours because no one else will in the pretty and laid back small Midwestern beach town I live in.
I have only fasted one year in the past nine and with good reason – I was either pregnant or breastfeeding my children. But that year shouldn’t have even counted since, unbeknownst to me, I was in fact pregnant with my third and only realised that well into Ramadan. I just thought the so-tired-all-the-time-I-have-to-tape-my-eyes-open feeling was because my two young ones were running me ragged while fasting, making for excruciatingly long days. But instead, what a fun surprise!
I feel especially obligated to model good Muslim practices for my children because I am essentially their primary – or should I say sole? – source on the subject. I was impressed when my eldest asked me a few weeks ago if I were fasting – I hadn’t eaten breakfast with them for a couple of days running. I was ecstatic she actually grasped a concept I mention once a year and read to her and her two brothers from books I order on Amazon.
I actually selected a large collection of children’s books about Ramadan last year but by the time I had decided which to purchase, it was the end of the month. And so they sit abandoned in my Amazon shopping cart waiting for me to click, “buy” at some point in the next couple of days.
I don’t get many questions from my community here about my religious practices, but was quite touched when last year my mother-in-law gave my 6-year-old the one-page children’s section in the local newspaper that was dedicated to Ramadan, its rituals and significance at the onset of the holy month.
But it’s not just the small town paper that is trying to honour Islam and educate the general public about this often maligned religion. The White House began an annual tradition of hosting an Iftar feast in the 1990s during the Bill Clinton years. At last year’s White House meal, President Barak Obama told his 100 guests in the State Dining Room that “no matter who we are or how we pray, we’re all children of a loving God.” Amen to that. Obama described the gathering which was attended by Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first ever Muslim American to be elected to Congress, as “quintessentially American.”
These conciliatory words go handsomely with the 34-cent “Eid Mubarak” postal stamp that was issued over a decade ago to mark the two Muslim feasts. I’ll see if I get lucky at the local post office at the end of the month and get me some of those.