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Ramadan: Islam's secret weapon

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"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 Mona over whether the official sunset yesterday was at 6:43 pm or 6:53 pm. Mona claimed that the right time for sunset was 6:53 pm.

"But that's ten whole extra minutes, " I wailed.

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 Beach 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.

Mona'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."

"I could never do that," I replied. "Food is my life!"

"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 every day, then you can do it too."

Of course I COULD do it. 1.3 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," continued Elizabeth. "Muslims give up food so that they can experience what it is like to have to go without it, in order to have empathy for those less fortunate than us. And you also 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, 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 all the bull dookie in my life that I usually just ignore or let slide. When one is really, really hungry, one quickly gets one's priorities straight!

Every year, 1.3 billion able-bodied 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 and I went along as the chaperon and ate a whole bunch of fabulous delicious wonderful cruise 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, 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 -- 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 just one burning question left. "Is it sunset yet?"

PS: "Have you ANY idea," I just e-mailed my friend MA, "how hard it is to go without food from sun-up to sundown? It's really, really HARD."

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Stillwater is a freelance writer who hates injustice and corruption in any form but especially injustice and corruption paid for by American taxpayers. She has recently published a book entitled, "Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: Helpful Tips For Touring (more...)
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