Sunday, August 08, 2010

IHR Syndrome

IHR Syndrome starts to spread about three weeks before Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, sets in. Just a bit of background information about Ramadan, for those of you who may not know … The thing I remember the most from learning about this month during my childhood is that we fast – abstain from food and water – from sunrise to sunset in order to feel how the poor/underprivileged feel. This explanation stuck was all I knew about Ramadan for a while, until I grew older and learned more. Ramadan is about abstaining from food and water, but it also about being patient, being charitable, being neighborly, abstaining from bad behavior, eating and drinking in moderation … y’know things we should be doing anyway, but sometimes forget. So basically, it’s a month in which we’re supposed to fast as well as practice being a bit more diligent about how we behave and treat others …

It doesn’t sound too bad, does it? I mean, ok, the idea of not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset can be a bit intimidating, but people have been fasting for Ramadan for hundreds of years and have survived, so it’s not impossible. I know that there are some arguments about the health risks of fasting – e.g. dehydration, but there are also some arguments for fasting – e.g. cleansing/purifying the body. It’s not a life-long practice; it’s not even a 24/7 practice for the entire month. Anyway. You fast if you can; if it’s something that affects your health, you don’t have to.

So what causes the IHR (short for ‘I hate Ramadan’) Syndrome? Well, first of all, I have to say that I’ve only ever noticed IHR Syndrome in people who live in the Middle East … not in the States or England. Doesn’t that seem strange? Why would a predominantly Muslim country have so many (Muslim & non-Muslim) sufferers of IHR Syndrome?

Having lived in both the States and the Middle East, and having fasted during Ramadan in both of these parts of the world, I can tell you why … In the States, you go about your day, participate in your normal activities, and don’t change much of your routine – pretty much just like everyone else around you. When you fast in a country that’s not predominantly Muslim, then the action truly is a form of worship. You are fasting for yourself; when others find out, you have an opportunity to tell them about fasting and what it means to you.

However, take a look at how Ramadan is ‘celebrated’ in a place like Kuwait, and you’ll get a very different picture. The biggest issue that I have with Ramadan in Kuwait is that nobody is allowed to eat or drink in public from sunrise to sunset. You are not allowed to take a sip of water, chew gum, smoke a cigarette or anything … the restaurants and coffee shops are closed. You are not even allowed to openly drink water in gyms or in your office. If you are not fasting and do want to eat, then you have to do it in the privacy of your home.

This law is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion. Fasting is about control and restraint. What kind of fasting are you practicing when all temptation around you has been removed? Will the sight of somebody else drinking water really have that big of an effect on you that you won’t be able to control your urges? Plus, what kind of an impression does that give to non-Muslims who live in this country? Eating or drinking in public during this month is not only forbidden, but also punishable by law. Seriously? How has this type of policy become acceptable. Meanwhile the grocery stores are jam packed with people buying tons and tons of food that they can gorge on after sunset.

This brings me to my second problem with Ramadan in Kuwait. When I was younger, Ramadan used to be special. It was a time for the family to get together and eat. It was a time to visit close friends and share a meal – the focus of these gatherings was being together, not eating.

Now, however, it is completely different. From the moment the sun sets, the feasting begins. You would be amazed at how much weight people gain over Ramadan – it’s because they overeat. They sit there and they eat … they eat from sunset until sunrise. Restaurants are open until almost 4:00 in the morning to allow people to eat and eat and eat … what happened to moderation? What happened to self-control? This demonstration of gluttony is not part of Ramadan! Plus, remember what I mentioned earlier about remember how underprivileged/poor people feel? How much food do you think is wasted at these large gatherings? It’s a sin – an unforgiveable sin.

So, we’ve got the law forbidding anybody to eat or drink, we’ve got the overindulgence from sunset to sunrise … what else? Oh yes, the shortened working hours. Ok, so who wouldn’t be excited at having shorter working hours? It’s great. It’s a perk … but let’s shift our focus back to what the month should really be about – you’re supposed to incorporate fasting into your normal routine. Going to work for 4-5 hours a day, instead of your normal 8-9 hours, just so that you can go home and sleep (in order to avoid/ignore your hunger pangs) is NOT what Ramadan is all about. It seems that a lot of people only look forward to Ramadan because of the shorter working hours … think about that. Is that really right?

My final point is about behavior – remember what I had said about being patient and charitable etc.? Well, staying up all night overeating, and then abstaining from food and water during the day seems to make people unbelievably cranky. Driving is chaotic in Kuwait as it is – add sleep deprivation and hunger to the mix and you get a whole lot of insanely cranky people on the road and all around you. People are speeding, cutting others off left, right, and center … they’re pushing and shoving in the supermarkets, all fighting for a loaf of bread … it’s insane! Forget the month of Ramadan – is this the way civilized people behave?
So, it is with a heavy heart that I witness so many people suffering from IHR Syndrome. I wish I could say that they were wrong to feel this way, but the evidence is all around us. Yes, there are still many people who do observe the month for what it is truly supposed to represent, but unfortunately, it is the ones who are behaving badly and being rude to others that are more visible. So, once again, instead of taking Ramadan as an opportunity to demonstrate tolerance, to promote kindness and charity, to be giving and forgiving … the month seems to highlight some of the worst kinds of human behavior.


Lola said...

So so true. I don't understand how some people think this is ok... Do they not see the correlation???

Anonymous said...

You do have a point.yet id rather call it (MSR)SYNDROME which stands for missing the spirit of Ramadan.

LMP said...

Well, living in the States I can definitely say that if I didn't have Muslim friends, I probably wouldn't know it was Ramadan. Regardless of the month, the behavior you described is terrible at any time of the year.

It's all about patience and respect.