One of the telltale signs of cults is trying to isolate their members from everyone else. Islam certainly does a nice job of doing so: “Let not the believers take disbelievers for their friends in preference to believers. Whoso doeth that hath no connection with Allah unless (it be) that ye but guard yourselves against them, taking (as it were) security. Allah biddeth you beware (only) of Himself. Unto Allah is the journeying”.(Koran 3:28). And another one is establishing exclusionary insignia and rituals. Islam does that very well, too, as I will shortly discuss.
The Islamic month of Ramadan is drawing to a close. Millions of Muslims preparing for the Eid-Al-Fitr celebration, marking the end of the period of dehydration and starvation. This is one of the 2 annual Islamic celebrations observed by all Muslims, the other being Eid-Al-Adha.
I am sure many of you are wondering what business I have condemning that millions observe and enjoy. After all if it is between them and their real or imaginary Creator, then why should I mind?
If that is what you are thinking you need to read the title again. I am NOT condemning fasting in general, but rather specifically the way Islam instructs it be done. And Islamic fasting is anything but a private matter.
For starters Islam, does not give its followers the option of when to fast. Muslims are not told that they need to fast a certain number of days per year at their discretion. The fact that all Muslims must observe the fasting tradition at one time is very first clue that indeed this whole tradition is about cult building. Other rituals such as collectively breaking the fast at the end of day, and the tradition of Eid-Al-Fitr itself which starts with a congregational prayer, further reinforce the exclusionary nature of the Islamic fast.
And the universal timing is also exactly what makes this practice enforceable. Indeed in countries where the state is run according to the Islamic Shariah eating or drinking during daylight hours will be met with legal penalties. Under these circumstances, avoiding food and water become a requirement for Muslims and non-muslims alike. When enforcing compliance with the rules is beyond the reach of state, in the case of eating in private or in the countries where Muslims are not the majority, guaranteeing adherence to the demands of islam falls on other agent of enforcement such as families and communities. Openly violating the rules in Muslim communities in the Western world can very serious consequences. They range from being ostracized by members of family and community, loss of business opportunities, banishing from home and even physical abuse. Needless to say, avoiding such unpleasant outcomes inherently leads to a good deal of hypocrisy.
Another outcome of the fasting rules is loss of productivity. Starvation and dehydration are obviously very significant distraction from work for Muslims. Worsening of physical conditions such as peptic ulcers and migraine headaches are by no means uncommon among Muslims during the month of Ramadan. And further, the “encouragement” to be involved in other rituals such as prayers and devotional Quran reading during the night, along with the need to “store” as much food in stomachs as possible, means loss of sleep at night and increased daytime sleepiness, coming on top of all other causes of lost productivity already listed.
Lastly, even to the extent that productivity is not involved, dealing with all of these miseries is by no means pleasant, which typically results in a rotten mood among many of those who stick to the fasting rules. And that is often sympathized with and excused by Muslim communities.
While for practicing Muslims the Eid-Al-Fitr signifies the celebration of overcoming temptations and fulfilling their month-long divine duties, for those of us who do not believe in a divine source for the fasting rules seeing why the end of a nightmare named Ramadan should be celebrated is not difficult.