Ramadan fast-dodgers indulge in secret

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On a recent trip back, he was reprimanded by his more devout son, 32-year-old Basil, when he unthinkingly ate cake in their car while in a traffic jam of Muslim fasters near Ramallah.

“Basil smacks my hand. He says, Dad, Dad, what are you doing? You can’t do that! Look at the people looking at us!” he recalled.

“I had something in my mouth. I stopped chewing it out of fear. People were looking at me,” he said.

Chain-smoking Palestinian truck driver, Raed, 32, keeps his non-fasting secret from his four children, having his morning coffee and cigarette while they are sleeping.

At the same time, he pays his sons, ages 6 and 11, a dollar for every day they fast.

“I want them to be better than me,” he said, sipping thick black Turkish coffee in an industrial district near Ramallah.

Raed said he doesn’t fast because his job is too difficult.

“That’s empty talk,” countered his wife Nahla, 29. “It’s the cigarettes that are killing him.”

Ramadan violators are expected to pray for forgiveness, fast to make up for lost days and give charity in recompense.

Religious observance in general has increased dramatically since the 1970s in the Arab world and other parts of the Muslim world, as political Islam rose to prominence and secular nationalist and leftist ideologies faded from the scene.

The rise of Islamic political parties in the region in the wake of last year’s Arab Spring protests is likely to reinforce this trend, said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center, a think tank.

The intensity of Ramadan coercion varies.

Most widespread is the closing of restaurants during daylight hours. Alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam no matter what month it is, often disappears during the holy month.

In Ramallah, where devout and secular live side-by-side, some cafes leave their doors coyly half open, a sign that it’s business as usual. One restaurant offers free soup for Muslims wishing to break their fast after sundown. Other customers can order booze. Police allow restaurants to operate normally in areas with a strong Christian minority and foreigners, such as biblical Bethlehem.

Almost all bars in Egypt shut down or stop serving booze. City bylaws in Jakarta, capital of world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, prohibit nightclubs, bars and massage parlors from operating.

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