ARRE: Each time I open my dabba at lunch hour during Ramzan, the non-Muslim people at work gasp and ask, “You aren’t fasting?” Food defines their understanding of Islam and anyone in violation of that tenet threatens their understanding of the entire faith.
All Muslim folk learn how to read the Qur’an, offer namaz, never to mention the animal whose name starts with p, and take control of our hunger and thirst for a month since we’re one-digit old. Unless you belong to an ultra-modern family, this is a standard Muslim template. The template is so widespread that it has become the sole definition of Muslims. In this holy month of Ramzan, it thus becomes fairly easy to come to quick conclusions about your Muslim friends’ religious proclivities at the office lunch table.
My lunch sessions in office during Ramzan go something like this:
Me: *sitting at the table, opening my lunch box, and interfering with absolutely nobody*
People at the table: Gasp! *followed by sound of people dropping their own tiffins*
Me: *Still not reacting*
People at the table: “Karima, you aren’t fasting?!”
Me: *In my head* Clearly!
Me: *Saying it out loud* Nope.
People at the table: *rushing around me* Whyyyyyyy??!!
To the the outsider it might appear, because of this OTT reaction, that the people sitting around my lunch table are also Muslims, who’re diligently observing their fast and want to rope me back into the fellowship of the pious, as they see my refusal to be hungry and thirsty for 14 hours as a way of abandoning the Islamic ship. But here’s the thing: They’re not.
Around my office lunch table are people whose only association with being Muslim is biryani, and when Ramzan comes around, a yearly pilgrimage to Mohammed Ali Road. Food defines their understanding of Islam and anyone in violation of that tenet threatens their understanding of the entire faith. These are the same guys who don’t observe even one of the buffet of fasts their religion offers, but are deeply offended when they see me wait for my coffee at the machine.
As they badger me to know why I’m not fasting, I try to explain to them about the inner conflict I feel about being religious. I am a Muslim but I have yet to define the shape of my own personal faith and its boundaries. I think of my other Muslim friends. When they’d asked me how Ramzan was going and I said not hungry, they got it. They didn’t tell me Allah would be mad, or that I’d have to keep twice as many fasts to make up or distance themselves from me because I was “losing my ways”, but they simply said OK. And like that I feel more connected to them and loved. Because that’s the thing about being raised in a religion that’s got such rigid rules – some of us want some relief somewhere, to take a second look when we’re older and revisit it as an adult. My peers, even as they continue to be religious, understand that need and don’t judge me for my choice of the distance.
I continue to offer my heartfelt apology to my non-Muslim friends who feel extremely betrayed as they watch me chew down food while the sun is still up. I like to think it’s because they find my refusal to wake up at ungodly hours to stuff my face with food heroic. But mostly, they just want to know if this means I’m quitting biryani and the ample leg pieces I usually get in my tiffin. I say “LMAO, no”, and they find relief only when I promise to feed them Eid food and sheer khurma and they go back to their lunch. And I to mine.
Karima Khan is a writer and a standup comedian hailing from Mumbai. Her blood tests have revealed that she’s mostly made of shawarma. She enjoys back scratches and writing in third person because that’s how you feel #official. Hit the girl up on Twitter @karimasanela.