My first Ramadan

Amman, JordonSunset today marked the beginning of Ramadan for millions of Muslims around the world.

Muslims believe that during the month of Ramadan, Allah revealed the first verses of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam. Around 610 A.D., a caravan trader named Muhammad took to wandering the desert near Mecca (in today’s Saudi Arabia) while thinking about his faith. One night a voice called to him from the night sky. It was the angel Gabriel, who told Muhammad he had been chosen to receive the word of Allah. In the days that followed, Muhammad found himself speaking the verses that would be transcribed as the Qur’an.

At many mosques during Ramadan, about one thirtieth of the Qur’an is recited each night in prayers known as tarawih. In this way, by the end of the month the complete scripture will have been recited.

Muslims practice sawm, or fasting, for the entire month of Ramadan. This means that they may eat or drink nothing, including water, while the sun shines. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars (duties) of Islam. As with other Islamic duties, all able Muslims take part in sawm from about age twelve. [Link]

I thought that I would share the story of my first Ramadan to mark the occasion here on SM. To me Ramadan was nothing but a word and a vague concept until three years ago.  I had read about it in books and had Muslim friends explain some of the traditions to me, but as a non-Muslim, unless you live in a Muslim country or near Detroit, I think it is difficult to really understand the feeling of Ramadan.  In November of three years ago I landed in Amman, Jordan just hours before sunset on the first full day of the holy month.  I had never stepped foot off a plane in an Islamic country before and I was excited to begin my adventure, in addition to being a bit nervous.  My destination lay approximately three hours south near the ancient ruins of Petra.  I stepped outside and looked for a cabbie that could speak some English.  I asked him if he could drive me to south to Petra.

“Sure.  You go Petra?  I take you.  Please sir. Come.”

The Sun was hanging low in the sky as we left the airport.  Minutes later the cabbie was anxiously fumbling around with his hand in the glovebox.  A pack of cigarettes lay inside.

“Have one,” he said as he lit the cigarette already in his mouth.  He had a bit of the shakes I remember thinking.  “I can’t smoke all day,” he explained to me. 

Ahhhhh.  I remembered that nothing is supposed to pass your lips during the day. 

“Here, take take, I will light for you.”  Frequent travelers understand that the whole world thinks Americans are prudes for not lighting up as often as they do.  I fancy myself as part of the old school though, one who partakes in local customs if it will help establish trust with those the cross your path while traveling.  I grabbed the cig and lit up for the first time in years.  I don’t inhale.  Soon after, the two of us exchanged background.  He told me about his wife and kids and I told him what I did in the States and what I would be doing on the rest of my journey.

“I would like to spend a night sleeping in the Wadi Rum,” I told him.

“Yes, you know Wadi Rum?  I take you.”

A few minutes later he told me that we were taking a break.  We had only been driving for about 40 minutes.  Pretty soon to take a break, I thought.  He pulled off the side of a road and next to a rather large one-story building with many cars and buses parked outside.  It was a restaurant.  Again I felt embarrassed as I remembered that he hadn’t eaten all day.  He ordered us two plates of rice and lamb stew and we sat down to eat together.  It is not wise to eat and drink from a roadside establishment less than an hour into an overseas trip to a third-world country.  It’s just asking for gastrointestinal trouble.  However, protesting this food did not even cross my mind.  All around us were men who were similarly hungry from their first full day of fasting.  I liked the feeling of community and the friendly smiles all around me.  It was completely different than eating at a restaurant where you enter and leave with the people you came with.  Here you felt as if you were eating with the whole restaurant.  My driver explained that many of these people were Palestinian refugee day laborers.

We got back on the road and drove for two hours until arriving at Petra at almost 10 p.m. at night.  The driver took me to a hotel he recommended, which is code for “so-so place where I will get a kick back.”  Whatever.  I was beyond tired.  He told me that he had arranged for a room for me, and oh by the way…it had an extra bed.

“I sleep in extra bed, is ok?”

Ummm.  No.  I needed my privacy.  That’s where I drew the line.  I had tea with some gentlemen in the lobby that were friends of his.  They told me that I looked Saudi Arabian.  Depending upon the length of my hair and whether or not I have any facial hair, I can probably pass for someone from any of about about a dozen countries. He crashed on a couch in the hotel lobby.  I was asleep within minutes in my room.

I awoke at 5:15a.m. the next morning.  All through my room was a booming voice speaking in Arabic.  “What the hell is going on,” I thought.  Was there a fire or something?  As the haze of sleep slowly lifted, I started putting things together in my mind.  “This must be the call to prayer.”  I hated being woken up this early but I again thought that it was a cool concept that everyone in the entire city was waking up to the same alarm clock.  “Everyone in their beds for miles around me feels exactly like I do at this very moment,” is what I thought at the time.  I had never woken up to praying before.  It was a good feeling.

Hours later, after sunrise, I was ready to explore the famous ruins of Petra.  Before doing so however, I needed fuel.  No shop of any sort was open, and my cab driver was given dirty looks for even asking for food for me.  There was no way I could spend an entire day wandering amongst the desert ruins without food or water.  Eventually I found some cheese and crackers. 

Petra, JordonI had Petra mostly to myself that day.  There were few tourists at that time of year.  Absolutely amazing.  There was no Holy Grail to be found but it was worth every minute it took to get there.  Around lunch time that day is when my transformation began.  I was hungry but was feeling guilty about my hunger.  Even though I tucked myself in the shadows of one of the isolated ruins, I could only bring myself to eat two cubes of cheese and three crackers the whole day.  I couldn’t bear the thought of someone stumbling upon me and thinking that I was a bad Muslim.  The fact that I wasn’t really Muslim didn’t matter.  This pattern continued later when I was back in Amman.  I needed people around me to know that I was a good Muslim.  I wanted to belong to this place and to them in the way they belonged there and to each other.  It took me three days in a Muslim country to understand the power of Islam, and why it inspires such dedication.  You know with complete certainty that for at least that month you are one with all around you.  Throughout the day you feel what everyone around you feels and it makes you powerful even when you are so hungry that you may have to sit still.  I will probably never experience Ramadan again in my life but I am grateful that I got the chance to in Jordan.  I may not know the teachings of Islam the way accomplished scholars do, or unjustly interpret it as fanatical fundamentalists do, but at least I got to experience for a few days the one aspect that I feel may be the most important.  The brotherhood.

85 thoughts on “My first Ramadan

  1. Abhi,

    A great story. Very well told.

    You never heard the morning prayer when you were in Delhi.

    Before sunrise, in any town in India, you can hear islamic prayers, sikh keertans, and bhajans – all together on separate loudspeakers in the background, and bollywood songs too.

  2. a quick question- is it ramadan or ramazan??? …coz i remember (vaguely!) reading about “ramazan” in the school textbooks. then one day i hear of “ramadan” from my cousins who were in Saudi for a while and suddenly i hear the whole world saying ramadan!

  3. The brotherhood

    So when you going to recite the kalima Abhi? ;-)

    Its a very romanticised and swooning vision. As a non practising, non fasting Muslim, the Muslim brotherhood is good in theory – in reality it often excludes, denigrates and renders into second status any non Muslim – if you are Hindu, Jew, Buddhist, Christian you are not part of the brotherhood. Kind of like a caste system of its own. And you are regarded as inferior.

    And I am glad I escaped it and see all of humanity as my brother and sister.

  4. Dear Abhi,

    Thank you for this very kind, heartfelt post. At a time in which most news about Islam is negative (saddly usually on account of what my co-religionists do–Bali, example), its great to hear your story from Jordan.

    Happy Deepvali/Ramadan/Rosha Ashana

    Zahir

  5. Dear Abhi,

    Thank you for this very kind, heartfelt post. At a time in which most news about Islam is negative (saddly usually on account of what my co-religionists do–Bali, example), its great to hear your story from Jordan.

    Happy Deepvali/Ramadan/Rosha Ashana

    Zahir

  6. Abhi,

    Nicely written article. In the interests of clarifying any misconceptions (and to pre-empt any responses from people casting aspertions on you), it would probably be worthwhile to briefly explain your motivations for writing all this.

    (This is a genuine query — no replies such as “It should be obvious” etc please — there are people out there who will need to have your reasons spelt out to them).

    Many thanks

  7. It’s interesting to me how physical challenges are often associated with the deepening of religious faith.

    Something about fasting in particular is very powerful, no matter what faith you are.

    There’s an interesting passage about an outsider’s experience of the Ramadan fast in Amitav Ghosh’s “In an Antique Land.” When he was in Egypt studying medieval trade routes, Ghosh decided not to try and keep the fast, in some sense because he didn’t want people to think he was a poseur. (that’s my interpretation of the passage)

  8. “This means that they may eat or drink nothing, including water, while the sun shines.”

    I’ve heard that during this fast most Muslims have real big breakfasts and large feasts during dinner, so this is basically like skipping lunch. I think most people would be more thirsty than hungry during this type of fast unless they’re during some hard labor.

    There all kinds of unusual fasts out there, I had Gujarti girlfriend who held a salt fast on certain days! Never understood the need for fasts.

  9. Nice post.

    However, as a practising Muslim, I can say that being a part of a brotherhood is not the motivation for staying hungry and thirsty all day.

    Fasting in Ramdan is not only about not eating or drinking. It is about avoiding everything bad for you and other fellow human beings. It is a month to regain our moral compass bearings, start fresh, if you will.

    Ashfaq

  10. Great post. Reminds me of Ramadan in Jakarta and the early morning call to prayer I’d hear while getting ready for school. Although I didn’t fast (I’m Hindu) I noticed the Indonesians I knew were a bit more sluggish and irritable during the day — maybe the downside of fasting. I’ve also noticed the food gets a lot heavier and richer during Ramadan, and sweets are eaten in huge quantities.

  11. I needed people around me to know that I was a good Muslim. I wanted to belong to this place and to them in the way they belonged there and to each other. It took me three days in a Muslim country to understand the power of Islam, and why it inspires such dedication. You know with complete certainty that for at least that month you are one with all around you. Throughout the day you feel what everyone around you feels and it makes you powerful even when you are so hungry that you may have to sit still. I will probably never experience Ramadan again in my life but I am grateful that I got the chance to in Jordon. I may not know the teachings of Islam the way accomplished scholars do, or unjustly interpret it as fanatical fundamentalists do, but at least I got to experience for a few days the one aspect that I feel may be the most important. The brotherhood.

    Wow. It’s scary how quickly one can get brainwashed. No wonder that region produces so many madcaps.

  12. michael h said.

    Wow. It’s scary how quickly one can get brainwashed. No wonder that region produces so many madcaps.

    What do you mean? Are you saying abhi is weak in the mind or a madcap? Why does this scare you?

  13. Brilliant post, Abhi, took me back to the old Dubai days. Ramadan holds fond memories for me. Selfish ones, like getting a shorter school day and going to various iftar ‘parties’. And more selfish ones, like experiencing the brotherhood first hand.

    I had Gujarti girlfriend who held a salt fast on certain days! Never understood the need for fasts.

    I’ve done that one, once a year for five years. It’s called ‘moda-kat’, which means something like ‘bland-times’. In the final year you get to dress up in chanya-cholis with crowns of flowers and do garba. Also people give you pre$ent$, weee!

    Tried fasting during Ramadan with friends once, I lasted a miserable few days (those dates at sundown tasted better than any mangosteen I’ve ever had). But my moda-kat years were useless to me. Ramadan fasting is surely hard on those who perform physical labour but it isn’t exactly easy to bear for those writing final exams either!

    Ramadan Kareem everyone!

  14. It’s scary how quickly one can get brainwashed

    I hardly got that impression at all. Reverence was more the word that came to mind after reading Abhi’s beautiful story. Respect and Tolerence were a close second. I don’t think feeling ‘A Part of the One’ makes anyone brainwashed, but probably more mindful. This world could definitely use a lot more of that, don’t you think?

  15. Timepass, funny, one of my fondest memories also of growing up expat in Jakarta is listening to the early morning prayer when getting ready for school. It will always be part of Indonesia’s soundtrack for me.

    In recent years, it seems Ramadan has acquired this commercialization similar to that of Diwali and Christmas. Families save for months just to afford the feasts, dinners, and gifts at the end of the month. I can attest to this for Diwali (my familyÂ’s Hindu) at least.

    DesiDancer, would have to agree with you—reverence, respect, and empathy are the words coming to my mind as well.

  16. O’Ya and Vidster, I lived in Jakarta from 1984-86 — finished my high school there — and there was something mystical yet appealing about hearing that distorted chant every morning in near darkness. The first time I heard it I was a little freaked out — I had no clue about Ramadan. It sounded like a disembodied voice from high above — God on the intercom? Afterwards it became part of the morning routine and at times I’d barely notice it was there.

    Come to think of it, I used to hear the call to prayer during the rest of the year as well, though less frequently — I think there was a mosque near my house — so that sound became a permanent part of my Indonesian soundtrack.

  17. A heart warming tale… I look forward to hearing a Saudi Muslim’s story of experiencing the same sense of brotherhood while bathing in the Ganga at the Kumbh Mela.

  18. I couldn’t bear the thought of someone stumbling upon me and thinking that I was a bad Muslim. The fact that I wasn’t really Muslim didn’t matter. This pattern continued later when I was back in Amman. I needed people around me to know that I was a good Muslim.

    .

    I would have to hesitantly say that the above paragraph did strike me as cause for concern to some extent too, but I don’t think anyone here on SM should necessarily jump to negative conclusions about Abhi, certainly not until he’s had the opportunity to expand on his motivations for writing his article.

  19. Vikram,

    look forward to hearing a Saudi Muslim’s story of experiencing the same sense of brotherhood while bathing in the Ganga at the Kumbh Mela.

    I look forward to hearing a Indian Muslim’s story of experiencing the same sense of brotherhood while bathing in the Ganga at the Kumbh Mela.

    Jai Singh: >>I don’t think anyone here on SM should necessarily jump to negative conclusions about Abhi, certainly not until he’s had the opportunity to expand on his motivations for writing his article.

    Hey…it’s his blog. He can write whatever he wants to without having to explain anything to anyone.

    M. Nam

  20. MoorNam,

    Hey…it’s his blog. He can write whatever he wants to without having to explain anything to anyone.

    Absolutely correct, although read my post number 3 to understand where I’m coming from — it’s to pre-empt the avalanche of flaming indignation his article could prompt….

  21. A heart warming tale… I look forward to hearing a Saudi Muslim’s story of experiencing the same sense of brotherhood while bathing in the Ganga at the Kumbh Mela.

    indeed. it must be an amazing experience and i totally agree with you. the group expression of faith must create a sense of brotherhood. but it’s surmise on my part, based largely on a trip to vaishno devi. do post about your experiences when you get the chance. cheers

  22. Indian Muslim’s story of experiencing the same sense of brotherhood
    pre-empt the avalanche of flaming indignation

    Lord, here we go again. Certain folks here seem to enjoy hijacking threads and twisting them to suit their own selfish ends.

    sound of axes grinding in the background

  23. timepass, i’m not very surprised to hear there was a mosque near your house–mosques in jakarta seem to be as ubiquitious as ganesh temples in chennai, i.e., one in every street corner! :)

    but i understand what you mean about hearing that chant before daybreak–with the sun barely out of the horizon, it’s just you, the otherwise-silent world, and the morning call to prayer. it can be very humbling. the emotion behind prayer–regardless of the language in which it is articulated–can be universally binding.

    i lived in jakarta until the historic year of 1998. completely tangential i know, but could there really be an underground jakarta-based desi population in SM?

  24. “I’ve heard that during this fast most Muslims have real big breakfasts and large feasts during dinner, so this is basically like skipping lunch. I think most people would be more thirsty than hungry during this type of fast unless they’re during some hard labor.”

    Mani: You’ve heard wrong, the “breakfast” is actually a pre-dawn meal, so there is no food or water from just before dawn till sunset. Depending on where in the world one is and the season, the fast varies from not particularly strenuous to quite strenuous (in Dubai the fast often enbtailed 11-12 hours without food or water).

  25. Talking of crazy Gujju fasts – I have a friend at the hospital I’m at now, who fasts once a week in some bonkers way. He can eat one meal that day. But if he stands up, then the meal is over. If he sits down again it counts as a new meal. Hence he makes all his other friends (not me!) run around getting him things. Perhaps that’s the motivation behind it…

    I have my problems with Ramadan. It just seems too hard, I know very few of my friends who keep rosa who actually manage it properly. In the winter they go by British sun-up and -down. But come summer we have sun-rise around 4am and sunset at about 10pm, with temperatures over 30C. It’s impossible to manage that without water. So they suddenly switch to ‘Mecca timings’. I also asked what certain Finnish Muslims do (6 months sun, 6 months dark) and was given the same answer.

    Then other friends opt out, or only fast on certain days. Illness – fine that makes sense. But some tell me that there are clauses that allow doctors or bus-drivers (people upon whom others’ lives depend) to not fast. So why make it so hard? I’ve fasted for over 24 hours for charity a few times, I don’t think it focusses the mind at all, it just makes you think about food the whole day.

    And this is purely anecdotal, but the girl who lived above me in my freshers year fasted very strictly (it was known as the month of bad breath in halls) but shagged her non-Muslim boyfriend every day! Hohoho.

    I don’t know how you three who lived in Jakarta put up with the loudspeakers, they used to do my head in.

  26. Nukh: Um, one doesn’t fast in Ramadan to cleanse any OTHER Muslim’s soul, but only one’s own. Since under Islamic theology one may not be held liable for the sins of another, it follows that a fast for a bombing committed by someone else would be of no use. To put it another way, salvation is not a communal affair, but an individual one…

  27. Umair,

    Nice article. However, in the interests of clarification for the benefit of non-Sikhs on SM, I should probably mention that Guru Nanak ji went to Mecca not on “Haj” but because he did not recognise religious distinctions (and because as far as he was concerned, God was present everywhere, irrespective of which religion a particular holy site belonged to); also, the business with the “chola” is highly controversial, especially in view of efforts by some Muslim groups to use it as “evidence” that a) Guru ji converted to Islam and b) that Sikhism is a branch of Islam.

    Furthermore, it was actually the Sufi aspect of Islam which the Gurus acknowledged, and not the orthodox “formal” version of the faith; it is the writings of Sufi saints which have been included in the contents of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji — not the Prophet Mohammad, any of his associates, or any of the established Islamic clergy at the time or during the centuries afterwards.

    As this thread is on a different topic I don’t want to go into further detail here. However, I do appreciate your good-natured motivations for posting that article and welcome your efforts, in the spirit of friendship and brotherhood.

  28. “In the winter they go by British sun-up and -down. But come summer we have sun-rise around 4am and sunset at about 10pm, with temperatures over 30C. It’s impossible to manage that without water.”

    Bong Breaker: that’s strange, I hadn’t heard of a switch to Mecca time in those circumstances. Based on what my mother and some other relatives do when they are in Western countries, I will disagree with your statement that “it’s impossible” to manage 15 or 16 hours without water. It’s quite possible, and people do it all the time. In Dubai, one would see tons of construction workers (out in crazy heat all day) who would fast for 11 or 12 hours…

    As for the girl in your fresher year, the problem I have with that logic is that based on what you are saying one should either not practice a religion to ANY degree, or one should adhere to it in every particular. But surely people are more complex than that? Most people don’t live their lives according to a rulebook, Muslim or not. Most Muslims I know do not pray five times a day, but do fast during Ramadan…others pray 1 or 2 times a day…most of those who do not pray or fast do not drink alcohol or eat pork, and all of those I know who do drink alcohol do not eat pork; and even some of the most devout orthodox Muslims I know cannot dispense with Bollywood…

  29. That’s beautiful… and very well-told too. I really, really like the fact that you took it upon yourself to follow their customs, even for a short while.

  30. “Furthermore, it was actually the Sufi aspect of Islam which the Gurus acknowledged, and not the orthodox “formal” version of the faith; it is the writings of Sufi saints which have been included in the contents of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji — not the Prophet Mohammad, any of his associates, or any of the established Islamic clergy at the time or during the centuries afterwards.”

    Jai: I do agree that the “Muslim” writings included in the Granth Sahib Ji are Sufi, I had never thought differently. As someone who has an interest in Sufism that’s all the better from my perspective.

    I should also say (not really directed against you) that while it is true that Sufism does not find favor (or much favor) among adherents of the “formal” orthodox faith, that is not a reason to place the latter above the former in any hierarchy, particularly as Sufi-inspired forms of worship are the way hundreds of millions of ordinary people (particularly in rural areas) in the sub-continent continue to practise Islam. That the clerics might disapprove can hardly be dispositive: why should we confer greater legitimacy on a madrassah interpretation than a “folk” interpretation?

  31. The talk of Sufism reminded me…Has anyone here read “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”? I loved it, what with Ole Omar insisting on seizing the day and boozing up while you can (he meant metaphorically but hey…)

  32. In the winter they go by British sun-up and -down. But come summer we have sun-rise around 4am and sunset at about 10pm, with temperatures over 30C.

    In northern lattitudes (say, north of 50 or 55 degrees), practice varies. Most people I knew went by the sun. Not too difficult when Ramadan is in winter, as it has been for the past 15 years. But it was harder in the late seventies, when Ramadan was in the summer, when the day can be 17 hours long. I heard of one guy who tried a 12 hour fast instead, but it was exceptional.

    But there weren’t as many northern Muslims (at least in Canada) back then. We’ll see what happens when Ramadan in in the summer again in 2011 or so.

    (And I have very little sympathy for British Muslims complaining about heat. Over 30 degrees? Maybe twice a year, when it isn’t raining)

  33. umair, any RATIONAL person who is familiar with islamic theology will tell you …the less said the better. it is full of admonitions that if practiced in any civil society would lead to abominable conditions for all non muslims and women.as evidenced in the holy kingdom of saudi arabia it would be so much better, if we stopped interpreting the quran literally and started evolving towards a more RESPONSIBLE religion. btw, noticed that the powers that be removed my previous posting. i was just being cynical…and had no mal-intention.

  34. Mathematiker: not just metaphorically…I think Ole Omar enjoyed his cup in every way (along with, btw, his calculus)

    And David’s Lips are lock’t; but in divine High piping Pehlevi, with “Wine! Wine! Wine! “Red Wine!”—the Nightingale cries to the Rose That yellow Cheek of hers to incarnadine.

  35. nukh: My comment was addressed to your post where you suggested that fasting for “soul cleansing” purposes meant that one should fast to cleanse the Muslim soul tainted by suicide bombings. That is inconsistent with Islamic theology, where one fasts for one’s OWN soul, and NOT for the souls of Muslims in general. Your follow-up, that “any RATIONAL person who is familiar with islamic theology will tell you …the less said the better” is simply non-responsive. To repeat: one does not fast in order to expiate the sins of other people.

    Sincerely, A rational person who is familiar with Islamic Theology

  36. Jai Singh

    The chola fallacy is put about by Qadiani Muslims who are also known as Ahmaddiyas. They come from the town of Qadian which is in Indian Punjab. I have read their literature and they say that Guru Nanak was a Muslim and cite the chola as ‘evidence’ of this – which is ridiculous and very offensive actually, because it was accepted by Guru Nanakji as a gift from sufis in the spirit of fraternity and respect for all religions, yet they interpret it as proof that people should convert to Islam. This is a way o fthinking that no matter how hard I try, I just cannot understand.

    Elsewhere in their literature I read about how Buddhists Hindus Christians and everyone should accept Islam fast – but the irony is that the Qadianis are the most reviled sect of Islam by mainstream Muslims and are persecuted in Pakistan horrendously – they are viewed as heretics for some reason.

  37. Umair you bring up an interesting topic, wish I had a bit more time. But first about the 16 hours without water in heat – well it’s possible, but it’s daft. That’s purely from a medical point of view. Why risk dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and possible death? There has to be some flexibility.

    Dubai doesn’t have 16 hours of daylight at any time of year though, does it? I would advise going by Mecca timings year-round, as when the rules were invented they were for that part of the world. Otherwise my friends here just end up feeling guilty if they can’t manage the whole thing, for no fault of their own.

    About practicing religion a bit or not at all – I don’t agree. When I were a wee lad, I decided I didn’t want to eat beef. Then years later I realised I am so un-religious that it makes no sense me doing some token gesture like that. Towards the end of my teenage years I gave up on God completely.

    Likewise I have friends who’ve got drunk during Ramadan and then fasted as well as the above girl. Yes I agree with you that praying once is better than not at all, but things like Ramadan or sex before marriage are things that can really only be done 100% or not at all. Ramadan is like lent, a period of abstaining from things that are frowned upon, right? Certain things like not praying as often as you should I understand, but a Muslim who drinks/gambles but then prays frequently is surely missing the whole point.

    I don’t like people being guilted into doing things. It’s a common phenomenon, but when exams approach, people start praying more/drinking less/having less sex etc etc. It’s the same mentality that led my best mate to abandon Islam altogether saying “it’s just so much harder to be a good Muslim than a good Christian.” He went on to explain rules about how long you can mourn for and things I hadn’t heard about.

    I don’t think religion should be about half-measures. But that’s an easy view to have as an outsider.

  38. Jai: The general point of my posting the piece by Yoginder Sikand (himself a Sikh and a Sufi, at least based on my reading of his book “Sacred Spaces”) was that, particularly in these times when fanatics of all stripes try ever harder to police the “boundaries” that separate “us” from “them,” the early history of Sikhism can teach us valuable lessons about how one might re-imagine relations between Muslims and Sikhs (or between Muslims and Hindus for that matter) as not necessarily and inevitably conflictual (that they often were and are conflictual is of course a matter of historical record); one might re-imagine the traditions as overlapping at points, and rely on those moments/junctures to promote dialogue and pluralism between followers of different faiths. There’s nothing like a little ambiguity at the religious margins that so unsettles the “boundary police” in all religious traditions…I certainly have no interest in claiming Guru Nanak “for” Islam; his greatness as a saint does not for me depend on whether he testifies to the existence of the one God and the prophethood of Muhammad…