Ramadan in Pakistan – Asia

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Peshawar Truck Painter
Peshawar truck painter

Everyone was watching the television for the official results. Would Ramadan end tonight? Did the Committee see the new crescent moon in the western sky? After an hour of waiting, Pakistan's spiritual leaders convened. No one had seen the moon. The fast would continue for one final day.

Though Ramadan is supposed to be good for you spiritually, clearly many were ready for the Eid festivities to begin after the month-long, dawn-to-sunset fast. During the penultimate, Magrib muezzins sing the Call to Prayer with extra fervor, pushing the faithful to "come for prayer, come for prayer".

Kalasha Woman
Kalasha Woman

I joined the Ramadan fast, also reading the Koran, its daily recitation traditionally undertaken during the holy month, the month when God revealed the Koran to Mohammad. The faithful bathe, carefully open the sacred text and sing the verses, swaying back and forth to a cadence fit for spiritual reading.

On September 13, the fasting began: no food, no water, no smoking, nothing sinful. I was in Peshawar. The motel owner, Bahadar Khan, gruffly stared at me. "It won't do you any good. You're not Muslim." Hearing this made me look more deeply into why I was fasting, yet I continued, joining the Muslim brotherhood, trying to understand fasting and the Koran, putting myself in their shoes.

In the Hindu Kush, I met "second Muslims," as they called themselves, who didn't participate in the fasting. They ate discretely in their own room, or in the foreigners' dorm, where they knew they wouldn't be chastized.

Outside in the streets though, devout Sunni Chitralis waited until Roza ended: the exact moment to eat and drink water for the first time in fourteen hours and to shop for dates, fried samosas, fruits, etc., as the sun reddened in the sky.

Preparing for the End of Roza
Preparing for the end of Roza

In the Karakoram, Hunza Ismailis considered themselves Muslims, but at the same time did not practice fasting during Ramadan, instead focusing on good deeds, right actions and a healthy mind. "We respect the fasting traditions," one Ismaili man said, careful to eat only when in private.

Many tourists, also wanting to eat without disrespecting the Muslim fast, fled to Hunza or the Kalash Valleys, where the shamanistic Kalasha did not practice Ramadan. Food and home-brewed wine were plentiful during the Kalash month of Walnuts and Wine, as villagers harvested walnuts, corn, and grapes.

When you began and ended fasting depended on whether you were a Shi'a or Sunni. In either case, it started before 4:30 a.m, earlier for Shi'as, whose prayer times were different – definitions of dawn, sunset and the other three prayer times were not agreed upon between sects.

In predominant Sunni areas, the beginning and end of the fast was marked by blaring "air raid" mosque sirens, shops closing their metal pull-down doors, children running down the streets, cheering with smiles on their faces. On the first day, upon hearing the sirens, I thought India's Air Force was approaching, bomb bay doors open.

Nanga Parbat's Rupal Face: The biggest sheer face of the 8,000 meter peaks.
Nanga Parbat's Rupal Face

After getting familiar with this rhythm, I stumbled when in the Shi'a village of Rupal, under Nanga Parbat's sheer southern face, they begin fasting thirty minutes before the Sunnis, give or take, with their own definition of dawn. At three-thirty, high in Pakistan's Himalayas, the sky looked completely dark to me.

One man confessed, "I smoked a cigarette". Another one pretended to wash his mouth with water, but some of the water wasn't coming back out. While climbing a sunny ridge in Chitral Gol National Park, my parched throat forced me to drink some water. No one is perfect, and the Koran says that's fine. If you're a traveler, you are allowed to eat and drink, but you must make up the difference later, either by fasting an extra day, or by giving to the poor.

In the end, everyone shared together, whether Sunni, Shi'a, Ismaili or traveler. Eid had come and everyone was happy; they had completed yet another fast and perhaps had come one step closer to God and themselves. All could say equally: "Eid Mubarak".

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