People of faith fascinate me. I count Hassidic Jews, devout Hindus, Christians, Latter Day Saints and Muslims among the friends from whom I learn a great deal. They add to the richness of diversity in the workplace.
Around the Muslim world, this weekend is one of celebration - Eid Al-Fitr. Ramadan has ended and now the greeting among Muslims is one of 'Eid Mubarak' or Blessed Greeting in English. That and 'Salam alekum' - 'peace be upon you' - are the only Arabic phrases I know, Yet whenever I say them, they are always greeted with a smile and joy.
In my part of the world, nearly all the taxi drivers are Muslim and so I've had plenty of opportunities to hear their stories about the purpose and meaning of Ramadan. It's been a time of learning that is worth passing on.
If like me, you thought that Ramadan is simply a month-long grueling fast then you'd be flat out wrong. While the length of the daily fast - in the UK close to 19 hours per day for the month of Ramadan this year - may sound harsh, all I spoke with consider the fast as part, but only part, of an important time in their lives.
While the length of the fast is always a talking point, a much more important one was around that very British conversational topic; the weather. It seems that in the UK, Muslims are fine with the fast provided it is not too hot. While warm, May/June was deemed 'pleasant' by most I spoke with. The heat issue is something that preys on the Muslim mind because there is always the risk of dehydration, which in turn, plays havoc with their ability to function. I guess it's that one time when the generally temperate British climate works well. It's certainly the one time when having the freedom of being an Uber driver works in their favor.
Another aspect of the fast is that of interpretation around who should fast. One person told me his 10-year-old daughter wanted to fast this year. That is considered too young but he allowed her to do one day which they spent together on devotional duties. Not exactly a daddy-daughter date but something infinitely better.
In the early days of Ramadan this year, I'd quip that while a time of fasting, it is also a great time to get into shape through weight loss. Apparently, this is not something Muslims waste much time thinking about so my attempts at levity fell somewhat flat. One fellow told me that Ramadan is a problem for him because not only is he pre-diabetic, but also he ends up putting on weight. We laughed about his carb intake and the irresistible urge to devour just one more naan bread.
I totally get it. Other Muslims might frown because once the fast is broken for the day, the idea is to be moderate about food intake. We laughed about that one too.
But for many Muslims and certainly all that I met, Ramadan is an important time for reflection on life, a time for forgiveness, a time for giving to the poor and a time for family. One person put it this way:
We go through the year weaving in and out of doing what the Holy Koran teaches us and often end up on the wrong path for one reason or another. Then we get to Ramadan where the obligations that Islam put upon us allow us to get back on track. It's a great time of year for that. Once it's over, we try not to go back to our old ways but then...Even better, it's the one time when we can be sure that all the family, whatever their work situation, will get together around the dinner table and not just eat but also share our lives together.
Another told me about the obligation to give 2.5% of their wealth to aid those less fortunate. Everything counts, cash, investments, jewelry, if you own it, it's part of your wealth for calculation purposes. I asked if that could turn out to be a heavy burden. The answer once again, was no.
So Ramadan is not so much a set of self-flagellating obligations but is, in itself, a time of healing among Muslims. I like that.
I spoke with one person about what I perceive as the many similarities between Muslims and Jews. The ban on eating pork, circumcision for boys, the general way of life, the sharing of the same god spring to mind. He reflected upon his time in Palestine when Jews and Arabs lived side by side in harmony. It was clear to me that the difficulties in that part of the world trouble people well beyond the geography involved.
But beyond all the conversations, not a single person attempted to proselytize their faith. It struck me that the example is sufficient for anyone who is seeking to take up that faith. It's that classic case of 'see what I do, not what I say.' And if that's only one month in the year where the practice meets the ideal then I'm good with that.
Some of my children are Muslim and I marvel at their discipline at this time of year. This year has been the first where I've gained insight into the Muslim way of life that I didn't know or appreciate. And for that, I say Eid Mubarak! to all my friends and family who share the Muslim faith and way of life.