I found this unposted piece of writing from last year. I’ve done the editing but havent bothered to change much. Though it’s a little dated to my mind, i think all of the meaning is still there. It’s quite different from the general direction of this blog and i hope it will not offend too many. Without further ado:
Or, reflections on repeatedly recurring reasons for revulsion regarding a religious ritual retrogressed to ridiculous righteous rites that reek of ramifications of repressive, regimented religiosity.
The reason I hate Ramadan in Egypt is because it is precisely the opposite of what Ramadan should be. I wont dwell for too long on the obvious paradoxes of Ramadan such as: the fact that almost everyone gains weight during a month of fasting; tempoveils; how it is ok to drink all year but not in Ramadan; the infinitely stupid but increasingly visible act of reading out of a Qur’an WHILE DRIVING!!!!
Ramadan, in my mind, has always been about all those things that it’s supposed to be. It’s a time to worship and become closer to God. It’s a time to learn patience and self-control by resisting such urges as hunger and anger.
With some people, i dont really get why they fast. It’s the only religious rite of any sort that they “perform”. I’ve asked. And have gotten varyingly satisfactory responses. For example, that all of man’s deeds are for himself except for fasting which is for God – though what He could possible need with short-tempered, foul-breathed, deprived and depraved sycophants i cant possibly fathom – which is fair enough in principle. But it’s hardly convincing in practice.
A couple of friends and I were comparing Ramadan office hours. I stated that I thought going home so early was a little silly and that people were lucky this year since everyone seemed to be finishing long before iftar. See, in my mind, you go home early so you can get home in time. My friend boldly proclaimed that this was an extremely stupid way of looking at it. Apparently, the real reason we are let off early was so that we dont have to work as hard while fasting. When people think like that, it’s no wonder nothing ever gets done in Ramadan. See, it’s okay to slack off in Ramadan since you are fasting and are thus expected to perform at sub-par standards. I suppose it’s understandable when you make mistakes, but it sure as hell is not a license to be lazy.
The thing is, work isn’t the only area where Egyptians (or at least Cairenes), use Ramadan as an excuse to get away with more. People’s fuses seem to be infinitely shorter during Ramadan. And, again, while this is understandable if it’s 4pm and you’ve had a long day and are getting screwed over by the traffic, it sure as hell is not an excuse. And there is most definitely no reason to be yelling at each other first thing in the morning, which seems to happen very frequently. Besides, wasn’t Ramadan supposed to be all about self-discipline? It’s a little disconcerting that most of the people I’ve seen jump out of their cars in vulgar and violent fits of rage are very pious-looking, raisin-stamped and long-bearded. Unless of course, this is a phenomenon akin to the tempoveils. But see, it’s always ok, because they have a license called fasting.
Which brings me to the next point. Egyptians like to throw blame around. It’s always somebody or something else’s fault. The zionists, amreeka, the communists, nasser, sadat, the president, the cabinet, the economy, islamists, the military, the neighbor, the other car, the guy sitting next to me and, of course, women.
Temptations of the Flesh
I first came up against this several years ago when my much older (around 50 now) cousin was working downtown. It was Ramadan, and he complained about how, on his way home, he had to be very careful where he looked while passing by AUC because the girls there broke his fast. This immediately struck me as odd. First of all, broke his fast? Personally, I didnt exactly get a hard-on every time i saw a girl’s hair or arms. Second, how is it her fault?
Obviously, this has been a recurring theme. Every Ramadan I have to hear from my female friends about how much shit they get for walking around in what is usually as modest as you can get without wearing a tent. And every Ramadan I have to hear misogynistic Egyptian men, bitch about how unveiled girls break their fast. I think this is absolutely absurd.
It seems to stem from a widely accepted, by even the most liberal and secular of people, Egyptian belief that God created man with hormones and that he has no control over this and that is the duty of women to make sure that they don’t get men’s thoughts going (on a side note, this is, unfortunately, so institutionalized that until recently rapists could get off of charges by proposing to the girl and if a couple is caught having extramarital sex, guess who goes to jail? Yep! the woman for prostitution!). Absurd!
God created man (and woman) with a multitude of fleshly, earthly desires and urges. These include the need for food and drink, the urge for sexual satisfaction (both sexes, believe it or not), tendencies towards anger, greed, glutton, sloth and a weakness for temptations of alcohol and drugs. And on top of all this, he made it all available to man (and woman, of course) to test their mettle.
Some of this is obviously unacceptable (ie, a sin) regardless of context. Others, are a matter of regulation. God expects you to eat and drink, but not to be a glutton; to have sex, but not out of marriage, etc…
And in order for Muslims to learn to control their urges, we, thankfully, have Ramadan. A time of piety when one is expected to control all urges from food and drink to sex and anger. You’re supposed to develop self-discipline and patience. What does this have to do with sex? If you cant stop yourself from thinking sexual thoughts, it’s YOUR FAULT. No one else can take the blame for you. Seeing flesh is not what breaks your fast, it’s the unbridled lust that does.
Now, whether or not you think that women should be veiled is completely and utterly besides the point. Why? I’m not even going to bother with the argument about foreign or christian women, who aren’t bound by Islamic tradition. It’s a moot point when you consider this: Let’s say you’re standing around and Morkos (your coptic friend) is eating a sandwich or Sara (yes, she’s veiled. don’t worry) is smoking today because shhh-you-know-what. It’s so ingrained in our understanding of Ramadan that even a third grader can tell you that you will be further rewarded for your perseverance. So the next time you see a half-naked (and by that i mean that her forearms, face and hair are showing), stop thinking about jumping her. Think about god, lower your gaze and keep on moving. If you don’t stare at her long enough to cuss her out, you could just stand a chance of keeping those thoughts out of your mind.
I’ll stop here.
In essence, I think Egyptians really need to revisit the reasons they do things for. If and when they embark on this, they’re going to need a lot of common sense, a little logic and, ultimately, the willingness to take responsibility.
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