I have been fascinated with Ramadan, or Ramzan as we call it in our country, the annual religious ritual of daylong fasting by the Muslims, right from the day I heard the word for the first time in early forties from Usman, a tonga man in Lahore. My father had hired his tonga on daily basis for distribution of wedding cards of my eldest brother. It was the first wedding in the family and obviously the enthusiasm was beyond imagination. My immediate elder brother, super active sibling for any service in the family, was entrusted with the job in which I joined just for the joy ride on the tonga. We carried the cards, the packages containing 'kalakand', super tasty variety of sweetmeats made by professional chefs at our place and, of course, tiffin of tasty dishes made by our mother, for our lunch, more than enough for us and Usman. We started in right earnest with area-wise list of invitees, meticulously made by our elder sister, that truly served us as GPS in our tonga. It was when we stopped for lunch break at a beautiful spot and invited Usman to join us for lunch, I learned what Ramzan was all about. Requesting to be excused from joining us as he was observing Roza, the daylong fast for Ramazan. Seeing that we were still too young to understand what he was talking about, he explained at length like a teacher lecturing in the class:
“During the blessed month of Ramzan, we, devout Muslims, abstain from food and drink, even water, from sunrise to sunset. It is a time to purify ourselves, practice self sacrifice and pray to almighty Allah – God. We are to make peace with those who wronged us, make friends with our foes, strengthen ties with friends and family and do away with bad habits – essentially to clean up our lives, our thoughts and our feelings towards others. During Ramzan every part of the body must be restrained – the tongue from back biting or using bad words, eyes from looking at dirty or obscene things and the ears from listening to idle talks. In such a way every part of the body observes fast. We believe whoever observes Roza sincerely out of faith, he attains Allah's rewards and all his past sins are forgiven.”
In the evening when we returned home after first day's distribution of cards, my brother gave Usman a packet of the sweets to serve him when he ends his fast for the day and I particularly thanked him for his Ramazan tutorial, which no teacher had taught me before. Fast forwarding to today's times, having moved to the U.S., living in San Francisco Bay Area, I was surprised to see our Muslim Moroccan friend, Mina, married to Greg, a White American, religiously and regularly observing Ramadan fast every year without missing even once in the last over ten years we have been close to her. This calls for big compliment to both of them, the Muslim wife holding on to her religious beliefs even after marriage to a Christian and also the husband, who not only doesn't mind his wife carrying on to practice her religious rituals but fully supports her religious freedom without any reservations whatsoever. In fact, they both believe that religious belief is one's very personal preference and must not be made to come in the way of the couple living a happy married life. They and, may be, many more such couples set an example for the rest to respect each other's religion and live a peaceful and happy life.
Remembering Usman's introduction to Ramzan, I wonder how relevant the teachings of Ramzan are in the context of brutal political conflicts around the world, particularly in Muslim majority countries, and what a blessing it would be for the innocent victims of such conflicts if Ramzan is observed in its true spirit and not merely as a Muslim religious ritual. I wish for permanent peace and happiness for everyone in the world while praying in this holy month of Ramzan or as they call it in the West, Ramadan and wish everyone Ramadan Mubarik.