Ramadan Diary 1434/2013 Week 2

Halal Subway in Sydney


Day 8 – Tuesday, July 16, 2013

As I go over my ending from the last week, I realize how depressing it sounds. While it was not meant, I suppose it is because when one realizes how human-human relations have broken, we cannot help but feel complicit. There is an Indian Ithna’ashari thinker who argues that Muslims should look at the cross as a reminder of a broken relationship with God, and the violence that human beings are capable of.

Ultimately, I think that’s where week 1 has brought me. A realization that things are broken: with the self, with others, with God. This situation is the natural course of human affairs. We are not perfect, nor are we complete. This brokenness is not a bug, but a feature of human existence. The question for us is how do we deal with the brokenness. We should seek to make better all these relationships. However, if we take the Hobbesian view that “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” because the state of nature of humanity is to be greedy and selfish, then we have little hope. Global crises reveal the breakdown of the social contract, and the ensuing violence is a reminder that our better angels must be brought forth, in good times, to be ready for the bad times.

Day 9 – Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I don’t know if there have always been this many ads for take-out and delivery, or if I’m more aware of it now. However, many of the ads are for pizza companies, and so many of these companies get us cheap food by denying basic rights to their employees. Of course, it’s not just fast food, but grocery stores and discount retailers. Our desire for things, our relationship to things, changes our relationship to people and the way in which we think about people. The invisible human cost that makes our commodity culture function rose to my attention. Even stores that claimed to work to a higher ethic were still subservient to the desire to make a profit. The words of relationship were there, but there was no real relationship.

I am not sure what my response as a consumer should be. Local stores and actually checking on working conditions are one, but not necessarily feasible, or even verifiable. Publicizing the violations of businesses is another solution. Working with groups that organize labor is another. Fundamentally, there must also be a shift in valuing the human on the consumer’s end. I know this is obvious, but sometimes thinking aloud, and laying out options is helpful.

Day 10 – Thursday, July 18, 2013

I read a piece by my friend Susan al-Aussie, aka Susan Carland, who wrote about how the emptiness of Ramadan welcomes the holy. It seems in my emptiness, I am still struggling to find the holy. I am still seeing brokenness.

Day 11 – Friday, July 19, 2013

And today I read McDonald’s employees actually walk out of a store for lack of air conditioning at a NYC location, in the middle of a heat wave. Where is the holy?

Day 12 – Saturday, July 20, 2013

During Ramadan, many Muslims give their zakat, or alms. Kecia Ali, a professor at Boston University, penned a good column on how American Muslims should think broadly in giving zakat. I have been giving to Heifer International for several years, both for many of the reasons Dr. Ali outlines, but also because it seems to address some of the structural concerns of hunger. It’s not just about addressing the symptom, but about the causes as well. It also makes a nice gift for the other Eid, the one that commemorates the sacrifice offered by Abraham and Ismail.

Masjid al-Hakim

Day 13 – Sunday, July 21, 2013

The idea of nothingness that Ramadan invites came to me again, via a post by Aziz Poonawala. It’s the type of thing that I’m sure should neither be written nor read during the second week of Ramadan, but still, it resonates. This idea of nothingness keeps coming back, and I think it’s a good metaphor for this most recent week of fasting. It is not just the focus on controlling desire, but realizing that desire comes from focusing on the self, and that when the self, the nafs, is not longer the center of your thought, there is a vacuum. That vacuum must be filled, and it is filled with awareness of others. Focusing on others, in turn, does not allow you to focus on your self. That particular solitude I struggled with last week is now gone.

Is, along the lines of Buber, the finding of others an act of finding the holy?

Day 14 – July 22, 2013

I don’t understand. Why are we in the US so fascinated by the birth of a royal baby? From a country we broke from? Who has no impact on our foreign or domestic policy at all? Shouldn’t we be worried about the children going hungry in the US every night? Or even in NYC, the media capital of the US? Or the children being killed in Syria? Or any other part of the world with a violent conflict? Or where food delivery infrastructure is keeping kids hungry? The stories of these kids strike me as being much more important, because we as a nation could make an impact. Where are our leaders who can say, like Robert Kennedy once did, that “I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.” We choose to focus on the birth of a privileged, successful child, and ignore the millions who are not like that baby. And yet, a small effort from us could move so many of those children into a world of opportunity.

Just a quick review of places I have given to, or am thinking of giving to, to help with hunger-related issues. Please add more in comments.

City Harvest – Rescuing Food for New York’s Hungry (NYC)

fresh-moves (Chicago)

No Kid Hungry | End Child Hunger in America (US)

Heifer International (World)

Oxfam International (World) – via Kecia Ali

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2 thoughts on “Ramadan Diary 1434/2013 Week 2

  1. Hussein, I so often share your frustration over the fascination of many with the sparkles and empty colors of the media when real and soul-wrenching events are also occurring around the world. This is especially hard for me when events occur in Syria, where I still have many friends, as well as those who have fled. I find myself caught, though, between the knowledge that mass awareness and the small actions of many can make a difference, and a sense that more structural change is also needed. For as many Syrian children as I donate to support in Za’atari camp, more will continue coming until the conflict is ended. And if Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, and Tayyip Erdogan between them haven’t been able to fix things on that end, what chance have I? I wonder how it is possible to balance sincere action to support human life on a small scale against the overpowering feeling of helplessness in the face of larger forces.

  2. Elise, sorry for the delay in responding and thank you for taking the time to comment.

    I don’t know the easy answer. I do know that so often we work to react to tragedy and I’ve been wondering what it would be like if we worked to avoid tragedy. Not in the sense of working to avoid bombing Syria, but work to make sure there are no hungry? When the smallest of communities sees a wound, and is hurt by it, it seeks to avoid causing the wound. I feel like we are children always, touching fire. I think we need to work in our immediate area to learn not to touch the fire. Then we can grow up, and pass that knowledge on and spread it. Every day is a new struggle, but struggle we must.

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