My first Ramadan

January 1998: this was my first Ramadan, half a year before I came to believe in Islam. It was an experiment, an experiment that went badly wrong. Around November I had stopped eating pork, telling everyone who knew me that I didn’t like the taste. The first phase of my experiment. In the popular vocabulary of the non-practising Muslim it is said that eating pork makes you unclean. So my first hypothesis: if I stop eating sausages, bacon, ham, gammon and pork chops it will make me a better person. No luck there for the selfish idiot remained; but I sustained the boycott any way. I persevered, just as I did with the Bible when I hoped to discover my handed-down faith.

Christmas came and I returned home, eventually. All of those questions I had to ask, but which I didn’t have the courage to articulate. I sidled them away instead. I was too embarrassed to ask that most fundamental question, for it was the pillar of our faith. Perhaps things would make more sense, I thought, if I knew that crucial answer. “Who is Jesus meant to be?” “He’s the son of God.” “Yes, but what does that mean?” No one ever answers in definite certainty. My holidays over, no questions asked, no questions answered, I returned to London with a prayer. A prayer for guidance and a prayer for help.

But a prayer in private, though I had no religion, somehow felt like hypocrisy. Like mocking words, I thought I should prove my sincerity. So Monday morning, breakfast early, I prepared myself to fast. One day became two, and then two became more. Dawn until dusk, a secret fast, concentrating and focusing, fighting to honour God. Wednesday, words recited all day, “In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful…” All day and an animated prayer at midnight. No religion, but imagining I was getting there. Thursday feeling focussed, then discussions about my thoughts. Twice in the evening, finally a late night, all night talk; admissions and confessions, and advice given, “Just keep on reading.” Friday morning, two new books, perspectives by non-Muslims. Now a final, smashing blow, from a Christian perspective on Islam, everything I came to know crumbled to the ground. Little trust in the words, but the fragility of my faith seemed an indicator of my error. No more prayers, just anger, and the buds of faith diminished like cities to dust.

No sleep in the night, I felt foul, perhaps deluded. As though I had committed a crime, I was distracted. No thoughts of God, I just felt angry, hoping that the night would take me away. The following day, nowhere to turn, a confession had to come. A telephone call home, itching conversation, my semi-confession at last arose. How I had been studying the Bible, attending church, trying to understand. How I had been reading, but none of it made sense. Genuine questions, full truths, but only half the story. Please explain this and this to me, I don’t understand this and that. Surprising acceptance, but no answers, more mysteries and confusion. Got the problem off my chest, but wondered how on earth it would help.

Fasting because of habit now, no more prayers to say, even my unreligious belief in God was quickly dissolving away. Down to the bar, I may as well drink; didn’t, but I thought about it. Hiding away from my advising friend, telephone switched off, smoke-screen around me. Off-putting characters making me detest what I respected, though perhaps that was only an excuse to justify my failure. Searching for the truth, I only learnt to despise my open mind. Midday Friday, the second week, my fast ended with a Mars Bar eaten, hidden in the Brunei Gallery. But by that time, already, the fast meant nothing at all. All faith had been crushed and destroyed, and not even a thought of God could be found. Fallen further than before, my faith was lost and gone.

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