By Sonia Farid
Cairo, Egypt. The frenzy that precedes the advent of the holy month makes you think the country is on the brink of war and every single citizen needs to stock up on all kinds of foodstuffs before going down to the trench.
Cleansing the soul and purifying the body, let alone feeling for the poor and learning to curb worldly pleasures, seem like clichés that recede to the background as an obsession with how gourmet the much-coveted meal can be takes over.
The bombardment with T.V. shows from the moment the first morsel finds its way to your palate till it is time to abstain anew at the crack of dawn hardly leaves a free half hour for reflecting on the wisdom inherent in the most revered yet most misunderstood ritual amongst the one billion plus nation.
The mobilization of negative emotions and belligerent actions with the first signs of a dry throat or a groaning tummy and till the sundown call for prayer announces a relative return to normalcy heralds the death of an all-out disavowal initiating in the spirit before the body.
The earthly gnaws at the celestial as the frying pan unseats the candle-lit lantern and the sound of chewing drowns the murmur of prayer. Stuff the body to the brim and starve the soul to the death, says the anthem of a people seeking the eternal heaven they have been promised on the transient earth they will eventually part with.
Ask them why they fast and you get a shrug for an answer. Ask me why I don’t and I will tell you to see the above. As a secular living in a country that managed to create its own peculiar version of spirituality that blends Western consumerism with Wahabi extremism, I feel thankful at times that I do not have to join the fateful slide into this one-way abyss.
At other times I contemplate the comfort of being part of the whole and I wonder what would have happened had I been a practicing Muslim. Unfortunately, the yearning for conformity shyly recedes as the fear of contagiousness forcefully attacks and I stay tucked in that safe haven in which I have settled for ages and through which I try to preserve whatever little is left of a world I have no hope of reclaiming!