(I am inviting a series of guest posts on City of Brass from close friends and family this Ramadan. This guest post is by my friend Razib, founder of the Gene Expression website, who is a professed atheist.)
Last week I sent off a check to my parents to add monies to the pot for a sum that they will deliver to a mosque which will disburse food to the poor in Bangladesh for Ramadan. Now, keep in mind I am not a believer. I would not consider myself a 'cultural Muslim' either. Am I a hypocrite? Perhaps, but ultimately, it matters less to me to adhere to the particulars of symbolism than as to whether someone has a full stomach or not in this case. I am a selfish person, but my heart is not made of stone and human beings have value to me.
And for me, that is what Ramadan is about, people. It is about the smell of food tempting you during the day. It is about people coming together and sating their appetite, slacking their thirst, chatting, laughing, smiling. I do not believe in a God in heaven or a devil in hell, what I believe in are the lives of people in this world and how they treat their fellow man, how they greet the stranger on the street. For all my disagreemants with the execution of religion I have little quarrel with its nobler aims, with its aspiration to rise men and women above the petty squalor of their personal concerns and look to the heavens above and be as the angels. I smile when I see men and women greeting each other as brothers and sisters, embarking on the same journey or task, aiming for the same discipline. I agree that humans need a common ground of understanding, a set of values which they can all touch and feel with the intimacy of a held hand. There is something special about the pronoun "we," the amity of communal purpose.
Ramadan means something to me not because I believe it is a special and sacred time because one particular religion is true, Ramadan is a specific manifestation of human fellow feeling, communcal striving, and a reaffirmation of the value of discipline and struggle. There is a reason that aesceticism and holiness are often coupled together. We are after all one human race, with a common horizon, and the same sun in the sky, the same pains, the same struggles and the same joys. For one month men and women across the Muslim world feel the same cravings and pangs, only to be sated as the night dawns.