The month of Ramadhan has wheeled its way over again. To all our Fasting People, Muslim People, Selamat Berpuasa.
Born a Greek Orthodox, I was raised in a spiritual home, not that big on religious fervour, but one in which spiritual religion was lovingly taught to me. My dad, having being born in a burgeoning town in Sabah, grew up under a priestess mum who helped heal people through massage, ritual and herbs and a bit of drama. When he and my mother married, he converted to Greek Orthodoxy, though she didn't expect him to make any real religious changes.
My mum had no access to Greek Orthodox churches in Sabah in the early 70s, and she didn't quite take to the fervour with which the Catholic congregations liked to conduct their sermons and mass. So she set up her own little prayer shrine at home, and every Sunday morning we would awake to the strong cloud of incense she would burn and carry throughout the house, to clear it of bad spirits (I say that part of the religion is completely cultural. Sounds like a leftover habit of shamans or feng shui practitioners). Sometimes I would see her standing before her mini home altar, crossing herself and quietly mumbling her prayers. Then she would turn and see me and tell me what she had prayed for that day.
"Your exams are next week so I asked Saint Paraskevi (St. Friday) for her blessings" or something like that. I grew up with the notion that praying was like a direct line to God, and though it might seem like it's only a one-way communication, it is the act of praying that is significant. Not the result of it. Hey, if we all knew we would get what we prayed for, we might as well be amoebas floating somewhere. Being human is having uncertainty, but being able to get through it nevertheless. To strive for enlightenment I suppose.
Mum also taught me about intention, which has similar notions in Islam. Sundays is for communion, but mum believed that if you arrive at church with hatred in your heart, or have had a fight the night before and it is not yet resolved, then you are not spiritually prepared for communion. The point of it is to share and be one with God. How can you be that if you're pissed and meotionally miserly?
Very different from my experience in school, where communion was dispensed like chips. Everyone seemed to be more excited about having wine for breakfast than being one with God. Though I did enjoy the kind of zen, huggie feelie Anglicanism that my school priest used to teach us with.
Anyway, come fasting month, and I find the beautiful experience of choice in religion or spirituality is marred yet again by human desire for control.
I actually enjoy the act of fasting. I feel cleansed, I feel purposeful. And I do think of how grateful I should be that I can go hungry by choice, and not because I am forced to live in destitution.
And because I CHOOSE to fast, the experience has more meaning for me.
I just don't get why personal religion and choice has to be monitored by other people. Or even be made into a secular matter, complete with fines and finger-pointing and arrests for people who have the right to choose. Assumption and righteousness does not a good believer make.
My sister who is not a muslim, has been shouted at by strange people, old men in kepiaks who should know better not to judge others, for eating during the fasting month. And she, who was raised to believe in self-creation (that everything is your choice no matter what), could not bring herself to tell him she was not muslim, because she didn't feel she owed him an explanation - who did he think he was? Didn't stop her from feeling publicly humiliated and ostracised - and I don't think Islam is about shaming people into believing.
The point of fasting is to be able to withstand the temptation of food, drink, sex, cigarettes and thinking bad thoughts about others among other things. If you make the choice that you want to fast, it is relatively easy to do - because it is a test of faith that you have set for yourself. If you make the rather dubious choice of fasting-but-only-if-nobody-else-gets-to-eat-in-front-of-me-because-then-they-would-be-deliberately-tempting-me-and-rubbing-my-hunger-in-my-face - then that is a compromise on your faith and really, a sign that you haven't really chosen to fast for pure reasons.
Even people who cannot fast, are forbidden to fast, because they are ill or bleeding or travelling - they cannot freely eat in the open for fear of offending someone. Religion by force (or social pressure) just breeds more and more followers who did not make a personal choice.
Religion is personal. The more it is about social pressure the more politicised it becomes, the more rotten peoples' intentions are.
So if you see me sitting in a coffee shop with my friends during the fasting month, that's all I am doing. Unless I'm shoving cake and coffee down my gullet, please don't make any assumptions about me.
I hope that no tone of offense has come through, I am merely expressing my opinion and do not intend to rebuke, slander or offend anyone in particular or en masse. These are just my peronal experience and I hope they are taken as such.