In the days leading up to Ramadan 1430 A.H.*, many a Muslim student encouraged me to attempt fasting for one day if not the entire holy month. I thought about it, briefly.
You see, fasting for Ramadan is about more than putting yourself in the shoes of the impoverished; it’s about pleasing Allah and becoming closer to Him. Yesterday on our commute to campus, I was fortunate enough to be sitting in front of a Syrian friend (who’s never been to Syria by the way) named Khaled. I consider Khaled to be amongst the student leaders in the religious regard. He often leads the prayers when the students are away from a mosque and he has read the Quran 1000 times over. I’ve read my favorite book twice.
On the journey, Khaled explained this act of fasting on a new level. For starters, fasting for Ramadan includes the following: no food, drink, daytime sex, and breathing (just kidding) while the sun is still shining. Some of the more extreme Muslims even go so far as avoiding all forms of music. It was a girl’s birthday on our bus the other day and I had to ask permission for us to sing to her.
As I mentioned above, fasting is done to please Allah and not because Muslims fear punishment from Him. Fortunately I came across a printed document that went so far as to say that if you weren’t fasting for these reasons, there was no reason for you to be fasting at all. Thank God! From that point on, I didn’t feel any remorse for sneaking snacks and liquids in the torturous heat and dedicated myself to the role of “faithful observer of those fasting.”
To be quite honest, observing those who are fasting is almost as hard as doing it yourself. Every evening as dinner time approaches, handshakes and high fives get weaker and glances at the watch become more and more frequent. It’s to the point where you’re fully consumed in their energy levels and do everything possible to help them stay focused on the mission at hand.
When the call to break the fast finally comes, the Iftar, or dinner that breaks the fast begins. Within minutes of this calling I’m surrounded by living humans once again and a sense of relief settles in the air, temporarily. Last night we had the Iftar with the entire “KAUST Community” including the Saudi Oil Minister. It was a nice event, save for my shorts and tank top attire, which is probably the equivalent of showing up to dinner in your pajamas… it was a hot day.
We continue to live in the hotel, where I’ve become quite close with the Bangladeshi cleaning my room, but we’re hoping to get to the campus within the next week Insha’Allah!
One more true story; during a Q&A session yesterday, an Egyptian student so convinced by the magic of KAUST asked the assistant provost if she could do something about the unbearable hot and humid temperatures outside. Why didn’t I think to ask that one?
As the piece of artwork in the Vice-President’s office so truthfully says, “KAUST: Whatever It Costs!”
*A.H. represents the number of years since the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) made his first pilgrimage from Mecca to Medina.