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Ramadan - Week Three

My second week of experiencing Ramadan is already documented, this is week three.

When studying Anthropology in higher education, you learn in your first class the necessity of "participant observation". This is defined as getting involved with the group you wish to study. In other words, rather than sitting on the sidelines, just watching the group, if you really want to learn what the culture is about, what they do day-to-day, what their emotions are how they speak, etc, you need to roll up your sleeves, and get your hands dirty. You need to participate in the culture you're studying if you want to get a true, grounded study of the culture. You clean when they clean. You dance when they dance. You cry when they cry. So, that is what I have done with Ramadan. I have attended mosque more than once. I have gone out of my way to associate with Muslims. I have read the Qur'an. I have familiarized myself with the language and customs during Ramadan. While it would be much more effective if I was in a nation predominantly Islam, I'm doing the best I can here.

Now, I ask: is participant observation "extreme"?

On two different occasions this week, I was told that what I was doing was considered "extreme". One later apologized, recognizing that what I'm doing is just trying to increase the religious tolerance of the American public, and that this person could learn a thing or two from my example. However, the other person did not apologize, and continues to spread the view that engaging in a religious activity other than your own is "extreme".

On both cases, a discussion ensued about the philosophies and politics of participating in activities in a religion other than your own. The first, who later apologized, ended quickly when I mentioned anthropology and "participatory observation". The second discussion brought up a fundamental belief in my church, then questioned if I was breaking that belief.

You see, as Mormons, we have temples all over the world. However, only people who have led good, clean, repentant lives, being called "worthy", can enter the temple. There is an interview with your local church authorities that determines your worthiness. In that interview, a question is asked if you affiliate with or belong to a group that teaches opposing views of the LDS Church. If you do, then you are not worthy to enter the temple. So, it was suggested that by participating in Ramadan, I'm affiliating with a religion that goes directly against the teachings of the LDS Church. Now, of course I don't agree. After reading the Qur'an three times, and on my fourth time currently; after studying the people and their beliefs and actions, I am confident that I am participating with a religion that has many, many similar teachings as my religion.

Anyway, I won't go into any more detail about the discussion than that. However, I do want to know that if participating in a religion other than your own is considered "extreme". What do you think? I don't see what's extreme about fasting for a full month. I don't see what is extreme about reading a holy book. I don't see what is extreme about making friends. So, I pose the question to you. Discuss it in the comments if you wish.

Here's how the week went for me:

  • 15 Ramadan- School is proving to be somewhat of a challenge while fasting. Not due to lack of energy or starvation, but because I can see everyone around campus enjoying their soda pop, pizza, hamburger, fries, grilled chicken, etc. And with it being the first week of school, there are booths setup everywhere handing out free donuts, candy, drinks, etc. Not only the sights, but the smells. Oh, the smells. It's really, really hard to resist temptation, and get a bite to eat. But, so far, I've remained strong.
  • 16 Ramadan- I met someone on the public transit today who noticed me reading the Qur'an. He asked if I was Muslim, as he didn't know any Caucasian Muslims. I told him I wasn't, then proceeded to explain to him what I was doing and why. It was a good conversation, and he had a great deal of respect for me doing it. When it came time to break the fast at sunset, I had my standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich with chips and drink.
  • 17 Ramadan- I was to meet up with a study group for math at school, but no one showed. I got to the school around 08:00, and stayed until about 18:00. I noticed that as the day got later, I was struggling keeping my focus of solving some math problems. I recognized that this might be a problem for getting good grades on my homework. Thankfully, I really will only have a problem with this on Saturdays, and there is only one Saturday left during Ramadan.
  • 18 Ramadan- Went to a family function that my grandparents call "The 5th Sunday Ice Cream Social". Aunts, uncles, cousins, kids, grandkids, etc all show up. My grandfather makes the ice cream, and everyone is encouraged to bring a treat of some kind. So, there are cookies, ice cream, brownies, and other treats. It was hard to not have any, and it sparked some conversations with my cousins and aunts and uncles. My grandmother made me pigs-in-a-blanket, with mixed vegetables and tomatoes with whole milk for breaking my fast at sunset. After which, I quickly had as much ice cream and cookies as I could handle, and even brought many home.
  • 19 Ramadan- I was caught today chewing gum by a fellow Muslim student in one of my math classes. She informed my that chewing gum was breaking the fast. I quickly spit it out, now knowing about that. I told her that I was concerned about my bad smelling breath, but she reassured me that because I'm fasting and resisting temptation to break my fast, my breath smells sweet to God. I felt bad, as I'm a big gum chewer, and have been chewing gum probably every day.
  • 20 Ramadan- About a week ago, a good wind came through and blew over part of my fence, and destroyed some of my retaining wall. So, I had a contractor come over and look at it and give me a bid. He asked if I wanted some sunflower seeds, and I declined. He teased me that they weren't poisoned, so I explained to him why I declined, due to my fasting. Then a long conversation ensued about having religious tolerance. He too held a great deal of respect for me for what I was doing. Two positive experiences this week advocating religious tolerance for Islam.
  • 21 Ramadan- Nothing fascinating today. Went to school, went to work. I was offered pretzels by a school-mate, but when I declined, he remembered why I declined (I had already discussed with him about Ramadan). He was impressed that I've made it this far. I am too. I never thought I would make it three weeks of straight fasting. Only one week left to go, and I'll be planning of having a big Eid ul-Fitr with my family. We're planning a pot-luck, inviting brothers, sisters, parents, step-parents and in-laws. It should be a lot of fun to celebrate ending the month. I also found out that the University of Utah will be holding Iftar on Friday at campus. I plan on attending.

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