Tuesday, October 04, 2005

YARP 2005: Remember the Forgotten

“You know,” I told my dad, while we were having dinner last night, when they announced that Ramadan would begin on Wednesday, “For a little while, I forgot what fasting during Ramadan was for.”

“That’s an odd thing to forget,” he said.

Yeah, it was.

Less Than the Best.

I’m not even close to being a devout Muslim. I know what being drunk feels like, I’ve done things with the ladies that could be described as… interesting and educational1, I occasionally blaspheme, and sins upon sins, I am often liberal and irreverent about my religion.

I could put blame on it on my upbringing. My dad’s pretty much a liberal Muslim too, with pockets of conservatism. But hey, he grew up in the sixties, and idolized Tariq Ali2.

But I’m not going to. It was a decision I made, I guess, a long time ago.

Times Change.

Yeah, and it’s harder to be a Muslim now. I mean, they blew up fucking Bali again. I mean, what’s the point of it? People die, Muslims take a PR hit.

Farish Noor ’s article, as usual, stands out as a fairly good piece of writing from a fairly moderate Muslim, but he’s lost the point again, hasn’t he?

Yes, it’s about the Muslims versus the West. It just gets to the point where you bring up the litany about how the West wants to bring down Muslims, force it to assimilate into what it believes is the global culture, and go along in its business.

Well, maybe that’s true.


But that’s not the point again, is it? Yes, focus on the conflict. Focus on the ideological battles Muslims have with the West, and with themselves and each other. We’ve entered an age of soul-searching, we Muslims, and it’s often not pretty.

But what has this got to do with forgetting what fasting is for? Well, everything. What is the Ramadan fast for?

The Ramadan fast is an injunction from God. Oh, great, argument settled, let’s go home. But that’s not just it, is it? When I was a kid, we were told that the fast was to remember the suffering of the poor, of those people who often did not have enough to eat and drink, the ones we walk on past whenever we go to work, or go home from work, or on Jalan Sultan Ismail, on our way to a night of debauched revelries.

Forgotten and Forsaken.

The fast is for the forgotten. Yeah, I know, it’s symbolic, but we’re weird that way. Humans, I mean; not Muslims. We’re weird in the sense that we need symbols to start something. Reason doesn’t cut it, and frankly, I don’t think it ever will.

So we commemorate the sufferings of those we forget so often by depriving ourselves of what they are every day deprived of—food, drink, comfort and pleasure. And every year, we do it, and try to become better people, by remembering.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily happen any more; but that’s semiotics for you.

Forgotten, and Forgetting That We Have Forgotten.

It’s easy to forget these things when you’re afraid, or defending yourself. It’s easy to just say, “Oh, we’re Muslims, we don’t do this sort of thing,” or “Oh, those Muslims, they’re always doing this sort of thing,” or whatever.

When we’ve got elephants running around in our heads, important things—like democracy and freedom, real freedom, not this McDonalds-Starbucks piece of shit we’ve got masquerading for freedom—get forgotten.

And life goes on. And people get trampled. And no one remembers.

Safe Fasting, ya’ll.

So. That’s a reason to fast—it’s not necessarily a religious and cultural thing Muslims do, but also a political thing3, a social thing anyone, Muslim or not, can do. Sure, you’re fasting because it’s an injunction from God, and you must do it if you are able. Think less of the ritual, and more on the mindset behind fasting.

But that isn’t it, as well, is it? Remember the poor. Remember the people who don’t have anything. Remember the forgotten. Farish’s article was a call to not forget what Islam stands for, and to fight for those things.

And to never forget.


1 And quite, quite private. No luck getting anything out of me about that any more.

2 And it was no suprise where he got my name then.

3 Muslims don’t usually separate religion from politics, which usually scare the shit out of people who are experienced with Christianity, who’ve had shitty several hundred years worth of religion and politics mixing together.