Last night I was combing through websites trying to figure out if yesterday or today was the last day of fasting.
Though it is still very traditional to observe the fast until the barest line of the first quarter moon shows itself, there are many who say one can follow the astronomical knowledge of the present day.
My heart leapt when I found a website telling me that the 18th was the last day of fasting. But another authority said the fast always lasts through the 29th day and if the moon is not seen that evening, then fasting would continue for a 30th day.
I thought to myself, after an hour or more of cleaning in the kitchen, that I might skip today’s fast. After all, I told myself, I had fasted 28 straight days, a full month, I’d “had” “the experience.” Right?
It might have been an easier decision to skip the last day of fasting if I’d had a stronger last two days. But I’d been in bed the whole time, mentally active, but barely moving. It didn’t feel real to me. I didn’t feel real to me.
(Though it occurs to me now: what if the entire month of fasting is to bring you to that point exactly: weakened in both body and spirit to stand up, lying in bed, an unmoving entity, yet still aware, still perceiving. Another answer to the question “who am I?”)
One fasts during the fasting month because one is enjoined so to do. But what if I chose it. At the close of the month, whether one “had” to or not, what if it was mine–my day of fasting, a fast because I wanted it.
Always the month had been a container, a vessel to pour myself into, a vessel that would hold the formlessness of the self in the form of the ritual.
Maybe part of the point is this: to go on when there is no desire to go on. To practice when practice is burdensome.
Even that is easy when it is in the framework of the month of fasting. You hit a hump and your work through it or go around it. But what if that support isn’t there? It’s the last day of fasting or was it really yesterday in which case this day’s fast is unnecessary.
Not unnecessary because I choose it myself. I savor each moment as it is my last chance to fast.
There are those who fast during the year also; I’ve never managed the willpower to be one of them. Which is why I so much look forward to Ramzan each year because it is a choice that is made for me, the way a mother would choose for you.
(Yes, my dear dear mother used to choose my clothes for me or help me choose them, long past you would think one might do so. And no, I never minded it.)
If my fasts this month has been working within the network of a community, however peripheral, my fast today is entirely personal, one between me and the One-that-Is.
The moon is in the sky. The stars were so bright this morning as I ran, shining from millenia ago to remind me.
Of the passing of things.
Some things are set up for you. A month in which you fast. The rules you follow to fulfill them.
But other things you have to understand inside your own body and heart. How the fast affects you. What it is for. What and how it teaches you things.
As I chose the fast this day, for myself, I know the world and god, whatever god is, is both everywhere around me but also everywhere within me.
Just like the prophet Mohammed’s face and Gabriel’s face are blanks in classical paintings of them in the exchange of Quranic verses, what I learned this month is a blank. I see the outlines of it, but not what it actually is, because it is experiential. I learned it by doing it, and though I’ve tried explaining it, the larger part of it is the experience itself, the way you cannot really learn about climbing a wall or running in the dark or a particular yoga posture until you’ve done it.
Moses’ revelations were written in fire on stone. Mohammed’s revelations were whispered into his ear in the dark of the cave. One of these men had to read and then write. The other had to listen and then recite.
I don’t care about the astronomical calculation of the moon, the ability so to do which existed even in the fifth century CE. And I don’t care to check a website or wait by the phone to hear from someone else whether a maulana in Toronto or Qum or some other place has seen the moon and declared the month over.
I will go out tonight and look for the moon myself. And if I don’t see it, I will fast another day.