Ramadan roundup

The first few days of Ramadan are notable for their tell-tale signature of activity: a huge spike leading up to and including the first fast, followed by a immediate downturn that lasts a few days as everyone adjusts to the physical demands of the fast. It's only the 3rd or 4th day (depending on how you count) and we are firmly in the initial doldrums.

That said, there's a lot of Ramadan blogging going on. Ali Eteraz bemoans the abuse of language that attends any and all discourse of Islam and muslims in the post-9-11 world; it's notable that he's been guest blogging at Jewcy.com, one of the largest Jewish blogs. Ali also quotes an essay at the MidEast Monitor that tries to rebut the notion that Iran poses a threat beyond its regional ambitions; however at 'Aqoul there's yet more evidence that the drumbeat for war is building.

Focusing inwards, Shahed talks about the initial fast doldrums at Beliefnet, while sepoy reminisces about childhood Ramadan in Pakistan:

In Ramadan, Lahore lit up like one of those trick candles. Bright and shimmery. The usual rhythms of the city reversed themselves. Streets became navigable. Cranky butchers threw in an extra chop. Aunties bargained but with lips muttering silent prayers. There was less noise. More genialness. The blast of the anti-aircraft guns to signal the breaking of the fast. The mounds and mounds of dates. The fried foods and fresh fruits piled on the same table. The 7Up in Milk cold drink. The pakoras. The uncle sneaking a cigarette smoke behind the tree. The unexplained weight gain on certain people. The never-ending taraveeh. Qur’an on a loop on the telly. The fetishization of color. And an ever-growing sense of invincibility in my 14 year old self.

I don’t know about spiritual blessings but Ramadan was solely a time for me to flex my muscles. I could fast - exalted in the complete mastery over my own flesh - all day, and still play a game of cricket or squash, run countless errands, and bike to school and back. All this in the oppressive heat and humidity of July and August. Tough, doesn’t even begin to describe me.

Look Ma, no food.

Finally, it's worth noting some advice to journalists about how not to cover Ramadan, by Andrea Useem:

The point is that journalists who call up a mosque asking for sources on Ramadan are likely to interviewing the top one-percent most religious Muslims. This gives people the false impression that Muslims are extremely religious. And it’s a short jump, of course, from "extremely religious" to "fanatical."

The Washington Post manages to take Andrea's advice in a well-written story about the way in which the muslim community has been spurred to do more acts of charity towards non-muslims - fulfilling both a spiritual mandate to do good works during Ramadan, as well as serving the need to demonstrate integration into mainstream American life:

Key edicts of Ramadan, which began yesterday at sunset, are to fast and promote good conduct. The devil is said to be shackled, making it easier than during the rest of the year to perform good deeds and give charity.

Although some Muslims have always had a broad interpretation of these tenets, there has been a shift in recent years to look beyond the Muslim community for where one gives. This is the result both of a more mature Muslim American social service infrastructure and of a drive to counter anti-Muslim rhetoric since 2001, experts say.

"For decades, Muslims were internally focused, and I think September 11th accelerated the natural process of becoming more externally focused," said Ihsan Bagby, author of several studies of Muslim worship trends in the United States. "It's not like the impulse to do good is some new idea in Islam; concern for the poor, the weak is throughout the Koran. It's just that Muslims in this country hadn't implemented it very well. Now a wave is starting to form."

As another muslim quoted in the article puts it, "It seems like Muslims are coming out into the open more now, seeing ourselves as a force -- like we can make things happen if we get behind a cause." And in a very real sense, this is what Ramadan is about; an impetus to improvement, spiritual and physical, self and community. The reality of human nature is that such intensity is difficult to maintain 12 months out of the year, but at least during this one month we can strive to attain the ideal, a striving made all the more intense and sincere in the knowledge that the time is limited to do so.

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