Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year, is the month of fasting and prayer. During this period Moslems allow nothing to pass their throats (food, drink, or smoke) nor are conjugal relations permitted, between sunrise and sunset.
They eat before sunrise and after sundown, with a snack at about midnight, so the net result was a lack of sleep rather than a lack of food. I remember how one day, I roamed around the desert villages in the jeep with the camp-boss because he had run out of fresh milk for the midnight meal – he took a pride in his job.
Ramadan was during the heat of the summer that year, from July to August. A series of images are printed on the screen of my memory:
– A huge truck pulled up beside the Trans-Sahara high-way, the driver in its shade kneeling on his little prayer-mat and bowing towards the East as we hammered past on the straight black road:
– My pay clerk having a furtive smoke in the gap between the cabins:
– The rows of sliced water-melons laid out on a long table in the mess hall, waiting for the 6 o’clock siren. What do you take to break a 12-hour fast? Answer: that which is both food and drink – a water-melon (or of courses a handful of that reviving wonder fruit – dates).
The camp doctor told me that one or two of the workers would rather shamed-facedly go to his little first-aid post to ask him for a certificate stating that, for medical reasons, they be exempt from the fast; he signed most of them but drew the line at attesting that a person «was addicted to coffee».
But on the whole I came away with the impression of a religion which was alive and vital, in sharp contrast to the lassitude of Christian religions of Europe, albeit prone perhaps to extremism.
But then which religion is free of fanaticism, manipulation and hypocrisy?