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The Holy Month special even for non-Muslims
Growing up in India, I had multiple ways of telling time.
Alongside the mechanical device we typically use, the chimes of the Ghanté (or brass bells) from the temples would indicate it was high morning and late evening. Church bells would echo reminding everyone that it was morning, noon and evening. And the soothing voice of the Muajjin, sending out the call to prayer by reciting the Azaan, would remind us of the various times in between the temple and church bells.
Growing up in Atlantic Canada, my little one, sadly, isn’t exposed to this kind of diversity, at least at the moment. However, on my quest to provide her with a global and pluralistic perspective, whenever there is a chance to expose her to a different culture, language, food or experience, I grab the opportunity. And this time, it was in the form of a Ramadan storytime and craft activity held at one of the local libraries.
Little impressionable minds of all colours, shapes, genders and sizes had gathered with their caregivers for this special hour. We - Muslims, Hindus, Christians and any other faith I have missed - shared the same space and were there for the same exact goal – to help expand our children’s minds.
An exciting chatter filled the room, as, for many, this would be their first Ramadan story time. I carefully observed the Muslim kids, watching them beam with pride and exuding a sense of belonging to see their culture and religion accepted and celebrated. For the others, it was a moment of learning, exploring and understanding. All in all, it was a win-win for everyone involved – the library staff, the caregivers and our little sponges.
The chatter and the playfulness ensconced us all. Parents whispered a silent “hush” to their high-spirited munchkins. But, to no avail. The staff eagerly tried to engage them but, once again, to no avail.
And, then, a sound only too familiar to me reverberated across the room, silencing us all. No one had to demand the kids to show this sound respect. The Azaan, typically, has that commanding effect on the young and the old.
To the uninitiated, Ramadan or Ramzan is a holy and sacred month for Muslims across the world. Muslims, the followers of Islam, are of the belief that it was in this pious month that the higher power, Allah, revealed the first verses of the Quran, Islam's sacred text, to Prophet Mohammed, on a night known as "The Night of Power" (or Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic). From sunrise to sunset, Muslims immerse themselves in spiritual discipline. A special time with Allah, this month is marked with prayer, generosity, charity, and goodwill. The fast isn’t limited only to food and water but also to any materialistic pleasure such as smoking, sexual activities, negative thoughts and ill-deeds of any kind (physical or emotional).
In India and The United Arab Emirates (Dubai), my Ramadans were marked with a time of celebration, joy and getting together with my Muslim friends. At every Iftar (the evening meal that ends the daily fast) I was invited to, my friends and their families would go lengths to ensure to cook my most favourite vegetarian foods like pakodas, biryani, and raita. And, of course, there’d be a buffet of mouth-watering desserts comprising of everything under the sun from gulab jamuns and jalebis to cakes and brownies. It didn’t matter to them that I was Hindu, and it didn’t matter to me that they were Muslim. We fasted together, we prayed together, and we were all a part of each other’s celebration, be it Eid or Diwali, Dusserah or Moharram.
So, this week when our local library held the Ramadan story time, for the first time in nearly a decade, I felt an ounce of that same feeling – the same excitement, the same anticipation for the start of Ramadan and the arrival of Eid. And I was happy that my little one has the chance to experience a sliver of the life I had once led. Watching her ask for the moon and stars as her Mehendi design, offered at no cost at the public library, is a moment I will cherish for life.
But I wish for more – not only for me, but for my little one. The sooner the next generation is exposed to diverse experiences, the sooner pluralism becomes a part of their cultural fabric. Perhaps a step towards that would be to recognize different cultural celebrations as part of our public holidays. In addition to having public holidays for Christmas and Easter, wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate Eid, Diwali, Chinese New Year, Indigenous cultures, Rosh Hashanah and Baisakhi?
Prajwala Dixit is an Indian-Canadian engineer, journalist and writer in St. John’s, NL who writes a column for the SaltWire Network. When she isn't engineering ways to save the world, she can be found running behind her toddler, writing and volunteering. Follow her and reach her at @DixitPrajwala
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