Every religion encourages fasting as a form of spiritual discipline, but only one to my knowledge requires it publicly of every adherent for one month of the year. That religion, of course, is Islam, and the month of fasting is Ramadan, the ninth month of Islam’s lunar calendar.
While exceptions are made for those in hardship (the elderly, the pregnant, the seriously ill, those traveling, and of course menstruating women — who are too unclean for their fasting to be acceptable to Allah, but who must make up their lost days in the month after Ramadan), all other Muslims are expected/required to fast, and in Muslim countries the social and legal pressure to conform is intense. Even non-Muslims are expected to refrain from eating or drinking in public so as not to tempt or aggravate Muslims.
This expectation reflects the Islamic mindset that the world must conform to Muslim ways. In Muslim majority countries, this is not surprising, but the West is now discovering that Muslims are increasingly demanding special treatment in the way of concessions so they can practice their faith requirements with little or no problem. If accommodation is needed, the world must bend to Muslim practice, not the other way around. We have seen this with Muslim factory workers, who demand time-off from the production line even if it disrupts the company’s efficiency, just so they can pray their mandatory prayers within the prescribed periods of Shari’a law. (By the way, Shari’a law permits Muslims to make up prayers that circumstances force them to miss, but most Muslims will not share this with employers, as they wish their non-Muslim bosses to bow to the rhythms of Islamic life.) We are seeing this same reality of Western concessions to Muslim sensibilities during Ramadan. If there are Muslims around, then eating and drinking must be banned, and everyone inconvenienced equally. For example:
- on Friday May 25th, in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos a group of Arab Muslims attacked a group of Kurds (also Muslim) based on an allegation that the Kurds were not fasting during Ramadan. Some 17 were injured.
- last week a Muslim resident of Scotland named Paigham Mustafa penned a public letter posted to Facebook in which he argued that the Qur’an never prescribed ritual fasting, and indeed that the ritual fasting of Ramadan is “another detrimental facet of religion and no part of Islam.” A number of incensed commenters insulted him as a “kafir” (i.e., a slur used for disbelievers), and threatened him with beheading if he didn’t recant and remove the post.
- on May 24th, the Interior Ministry of Iraq issued a public notice that it would take”…legal measures against people publicly breaking their fast (during day time) and refer them to the judiciary.”
- last month in Germany, Muslim parents complained to educational authorities that their children should not be required to take compulsory exams as they were exhausted from fasting and therefore liable to undue stress.
- the Grand Mufti (religious judge) of Jerusalem “…demanded that the owners of the restaurants and cafés close them during the daytime hours of the month of Ramadan in order to preserve the sanctity of the month. He called on the responsible parties to go after anyone who publicly breaks the fast and put them on trial.” The Palestinian Authority’s Supreme Fatwa Council supported the Grand Mufti in this, decreeing that “breaking the Ramadan fast in public is one of the greatest sins,” and quoting Muhammad as saying, “Whoever stops fasting on Ramadan has renounced Islam… [shedding] his blood is permitted.“
- Netherlands’ Muslim politician Tofik Dibi posted a photo of a sniper at a window, implying he would pick off Dutch people enjoying drinks on open terraces during daylight hours during Ramadan. He later claimed it was only a joke.
- as a sign of abject dhimmitude (non-Muslim submission to Muslim demands), someone at the Oregon State University posted a whiteboard message near the library entrance: “Ramadan Mubarak! Try to avoid eating in shared spaces especially if your food has a strong smell. Thanks for being considerate!” Of course, showing consideration for others is a wonderful thing, and should be encouraged. The problem is, the thought of accommodation is a one-way street. Fasting Muslims could show consideration for non-fasters by avoiding areas where food and drink are normally present so as not to disrupt the routines of others, but this notion is never broached.
Interestingly, Jesus had a bit of guidance for his followers when it came to fasting. As he said concerning almsgiving and prayer, fasting was a practice to be done in private before God, not publicly as a way of eliciting admiration from others:
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Mt. 6:16-18)
In other words, no one else should know if and when you fast. You should not make a big deal about it — in fact, you should present yourself to the world in a such a way that no one would guess what you are up to. If any accommodations are to be made, they are to be made by the disciple who is fasting, not by the world around him/her. “Your Father will see and know what you are doing, and His approval is all that matters.”
It is a natural (fallen) human trait to want others to undergo the same privations we are facing, even when they are voluntary on our part. The old saying, “Misery loves company” sums this up. If, as a Muslim, I am fasting, then I will make sure the Muslims around me are fasting as well. And, I will make sure that non-Muslims toe the line by changing their behaviors to accommodate me and my brothers. Ramadan seems to bring this attitude to full flower.
C. S. Lewis, in his profound book Mere Christianity, wrote:
One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way.
Indeed, it is not the way of Christ to force others to adapt themselves to his teachings or practices. Nor is it the way of those who truly follow him. But according to Islam, it is the way of Muhammad, and of those who follow the Arabian prophet’s command, “”Whoever stops fasting on Ramadan has renounced Islam…his blood is permitted.“