Now that Ramzan (not Ramadan) is almost over, I thought I, as a member of the non-fasting community, make one last plea for the next Ramzan, or the many thereafter: Ban on eating and drinking is as ridiculous as your questions about someone’s ‘roza.’ Let’s not do that. Ever.
Growing up in a household that observed Ramzan only half as excitedly as Eid, I was constantly coaxed about how important religion is in my family next to the subtle reminder of the consequences if it’s not: a personal fire-pit in Hell.
This was not without a constant reminder of the peripheral place in a social setup where religious affiliation must be as proudly borne as your first name. Ah! The angst of an agnostic! Of course, that was the decade after Zia and the mandatory dupatta-and-shalwar era where the earth was still soiled from the tsunami of the previous regime and women had plenty of white headscarves lying in their closets. Early 00’s were a time of change, or so I thought.
When Ramzan was still Ramzan, and tv was still sane and people had true faces and actual books instead of Facebooks — the world was more real. In the post-truth, post-sanity world of social media, more and more is deemed acceptable under the guise of change. When you ban the harmless kite-flying and declare Valentine’s Day as immoral, religion is often substituted for festivity and an ‘unreal’ Ramzan is created — one that is the complete opposite of what it’s supposed to be — self-control and austerity. I recently questioned the logic behind the greeting “Ramzan mubarak!” of which I have no childhood memory. What you really celebrate, I argued, is Eid which marks the end of a whole month of soul-searching through self-control and prayer seeking redemption.
This is a celebration of religion itself, I’ve been told. Wheel-of-fortune themed game shows, sehri parties, and 10k joras is not celebration — its economics. While the business of religious party or ‘pietying’ booms, it does so at the cost of other, more meaningful festivities like the harvest season or local sports.
Christmas celebration is often quoted as a rebuttal. First, Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’s birth (albeit its pagan roots) and not an exercise in austerity. Second, Christmas itself is a bi-annual event like both the Eids and not a ritual. No comparisons here.
At an inter-faith communion in California, a group of Muslims recently informed a group of Christians that Ramzan is a month in which we decorate our houses, enjoy different types of delicacies, and just love fasting up to 12 hours while working full time. Basically, dressing up a mandatory Islamic ritual as a cheerful version of Santa Claus who starves all day and ends his day with the fattiest foods possible. More like a group of scared Muslims seeking validation from western Christians by presenting a pop-culture version of one of Islam’s five key elements — both alienated to the basics.
The piety isn’t over yet. Not at the local community centre, a safe haven to Trump haters and Nawaz haters who finally find an audience with like-minded bigots envisioning a safe America for their children without racists and Islamophobics while praying to cure Pakistan of the curse of secularism. Their faces beaming with the precious little rozas of Shaun the Shahnawaz who couldn’t tell Lahore from Delhi on the map. Torn between the contempt for their parents’ homeland and the deepest reverence for their religion, for these children namaz and hijab are the essentials of their identity so they choose something more universal like religion and remain ashamed of their culture. They celebrate Halloween because its areligious and pretend not to celebrate Christmas lest it makes them a bad Muslim.
One of the least united communities in the US (an observation of course), Pakistanis utilise Ramzan as the perfect time to socialise and mobilise within the community. Right car: friends. Not fasting: unfriend. Suburban house: friends, too. Fobby: unfriend. Despite their third-world background they also come across as the least empathetic people towards other under-privileged communities: all Latinos are lazy and all blacks are criminal. Talk about assimilation. While they look like they’re breaking bed together, at home they have adorable nicknames for each other like ‘electrician’ or ‘taxi-wala’ or ‘karanta.’