"Is it sunset yet?" For the last week, I have been asking everyone I know this question -- starting at about 3:00 in the afternoon. "Is it sunset yet, so I can start eating again?"
"No, Jane, it's not sunset yet. Get over it." But I'm hungry! I just got into a big fight with my friend Muna over whether the official sunset yesterday was at 6:43 or 6:53 pm. Muna claimed that the right time was 6:53 pm.
What is this sunset/food connection? What am I talking about? Some exotic form of Weight Watchers or Jennie Craig? Is this some weird version of the South Park diet, one that revolves around the position of the sun? No. This is all about the Muslim tradition of fasting during the month of Ramadan.
Muna's son Remi explained it to me. "Ramadan is the name of the month in the Islamic lunar calendar wherein all able-bodied Muslims over the age of 14 give alms to the poor, try to be good people and refrain from eating and drinking for as long as the sun is in the sky."
"You could do it, Jane. After the first week you get used to it. If I can do it and still go to football practice, then you can do it too."
Sure I could DO it. Two billion Muslims do it every year. But exactly why would I WANT to?
"Ramadan fasting is different from just going without food," explained my friend Elizabeth. "You'll see." I will? Ha!
"Ramadan is special. You give up food so that you can experience what it is like to go without it. And you give up food as a manner of principle, proving to yourself that you can make this sacrifice because you -- not TV commercials or McDonalds or the whim of the moment -- are in control. And you can do it because you have faith that God will give you strength and lead you through it. We are making a philosophical statement during Ramadan, Jane -- not trying to lose a dress size. Try it. You'll see."
I tried it. On October 4, 2005, Ramadan arrived. No food or drink for me between sunrise and sunset. And, to my surprise, it DID start to change me into a better person -- if for no other reason than I no longer had the energy to put up with the bull dookie in my life that I usually let slide. When one is really, really hungry, one quickly gets one's priorities straight!
Every year, 1.3 billion Muslims do without and it forces them to understand the suffering of their fellow-men and to have empathy for those in need. It is Islam's secret weapon in the human race's battle to become better people.
Still and all, remember when my daughter's Girl Scout troop sold 60,000 boxes of cookies and won a Caribbean cruise last year and I went along as the chaperon and ate a whole bunch of food and put on ten pounds that I haven't been able to lose since then? Well, it's been only a week into Ramadan and I've already lost three pounds. By November 4, 2005 the end of the lunar month, I bet that I'll weigh the same as I did in high school! And I will have lost a lot of mental baggage too.
Also, hopefully, I will have lost my belief that food -- especially hot caramel sundaes and birthday cake and French fries from the Smoke House on Woolsey Street -- is the best source of comfort. The best source of comfort is not food. It is knowing that I am a good person, one that is capable of sacrifice, self-control and doing good.
But I still have one question. "Is it sunset yet?"