I have eaten every day of Ramadan. Everyday, I wake and eat breakfast, wait a little while, then eat dinner, wait a little while more, and then eat my spoonful of peanut butter about 2 hours before bedtime. This differs from how fasting Muslims eat during Ramadan in a number of ways, mostly the part involving eating during the day and probably the peanut butter as well.
From the time of the call to prayer around 3:30 am to the sunset call to prayer around 6:45 pm, fasting Muslims are not to eat any food or drink any water. Though one is ravenous, eating is prohibited even slightly before hearing the sunset call to prayer. Feel free to twirl your fingers in a bowl of spaghetti or dunk your head in a puddle, but none of those substances may enter your body and begin journeying through the digestive tract.
Though I have eaten out in restaurants frequently during Ramadan, honoring my pledge to cook for myself no more than 3 times a month, I have only eaten twice in a restaurant right at the time of iftar, the break fast, the moment everyone has been waiting for with grumbling tummies and cottonmouth .
Tonight was one of those times twain: we arrive to the restaurant a little late, at about 6:30, and it is completely filled with patrons who are neither eating nor drinking. A buzz fills the air as people converse hungrily with one another, the waiters flit around setting food on tables, and others customers stare off into space, tiny drumsticks floating above their heads.
The hour continues to approach; the buzz reaches its height. Many tables are completely filled with delicious treats like hot bread the size of a large pizza and steaming bowls of meat and spices…oh joy! I stare at the food on everyone’s table as they gaze into space, trying to forget about their hunger during these last painful minutes. The victuals themselves begin to speak in honeyed tongues, tempting the hungry souls:
“I’m a refreshing bottle of cool water….drink me! It’s almost time anyways, what does God care if one of his thirsty and deserving servants takes just one sip before the call to prayer? You know Auntie Fatima is going to elbow you out of the way as soon as she hears it just like she did last night…she’s always the first one to drink and no one says anything because her husband died ten years ago. As if you could blame him for wanting to escape her. Cowards! Drink me! Drink me!”
“I’m a tasty piece of roast meat….look at the color of my skin. Just look at how golden and crinkly it is! Look at it! How tender I am underneath a swift crunch! I just popped out of the oven. Can you detect the meaty scent wafting off the sides of me? I’m getting colder by the second! Auntie Fatima’s fleshy paw is going to grab me before you’ll ever sink your teeth into me. Eat me! Eat me now!”
And just when the temptation seems unbearable and even death would be preferable to this never ending hell, a waiter turns the television up. Could it be?? Yes! It is! It’s the call to prayer ( played 5 times a day on many television stations. I’m not sure which ones). Someone begins drinking water, the rest soon following in a joyous free for all in which no one is blamed for chewing too loudly, putting another mouthful of food in before finishing the last one, or knocking their little sister over while reaching for the juice. Images that come to mind when viewing the scene: my family around a plate of hot cookies, the game hungry hungry hippos, and swarms of any kind, barring swarms of koala bears or sloths.
I find myself eating with extra vigor despite the fact I was not fasting. In fact, I had just eaten my 6 o’clock snack to make sure I wasn’t insane with hunger when we got to the restaurant, in effect avoiding anything resembling a fast. I guess we all celebrate Ramadan differently.