Letter from Hebron at start of Ramadan

Paulette Schroeder is a volunteer with Christian Peacemaker Teams.

It's the first Friday of Ramadan, August 28, 2009.  I'm walking in a street patrol to the Ibrahimi Mosque in the Old City of Hebron, squeezed between hundreds and hundreds of men, women, children also making their way to the Mosque, but for them it's time to pray formally in their daily schedule during Ramadan.  There's very little pushing, but also there's very little air!  Everyone is shoulder to shoulder, front to back, almost ONE unit moving ahead-slowly, surely like a turtle on its way to the sea.

The sight of this huge expression of faith by the Muslim people happens every day during this month of Ramadan in each of their major cities. I'm in total awe. Accustomed to our churches in the United States being full on Christmas and Easter morning but surely not so otherwise, I stand back in amazement:  every day, three times  a day to Mosque, especially on Fridays. 

At the checkpoint close to the Mosque, young Red  Crescent (Red Cross) workers quickly direct the women to the Muslim side of the Mosque and the men to the Jewish synagogue side. On 10 days of the year, the Mosque is completely for the Muslims.  Jews  call the same site the Cave of Machpelah and it is entirely reserved for them on another 10 days.   The four Fridays of Ramadan are counted in the Muslims' 10 days.  On this first Friday of Ramadan  the Mufti of all Palestine preaches to the people, reminding them of
their relationship to Allah, their call to be people of prayer, to do almsgiving and strict  fasting.

By this time, I've come to know quite a few shopkeepers in the Old City. On all other days I am offered tea or coffee a half dozen times or so.  But not so during this month!  There is strict fasting:  no water, no food from dawn until dusk.  Nor is there any accommodation to the blazing heat for those who fast.  The women wear the same long robes and the hijab veil no matter if it is 100 degrees or more.  No water bottles around here during this month! Where there is illness or pregnancy or a child under five, then persons are not required to fast. But the adults must  make the days up another time, or else give a corresponding amount of money to people who are poor.

One 18year-old friend said to me:  "You are a better person at the end of Ramadan for fasting."  A middle-aged man in government commented:  "Fasting purifies us, makes us better."  I wholeheartedly agree on these powerful effects of fasting from the asceticism in my own Catholic background.  In the midst of the Occupation with all its severe restrictions on the daily life of these people, I see that  life goes on.

I see people  making a serious effort to listen intently, personally to God this Ramadan, opening themselves to change wherever they need to change.  I think one of my favorite authors, Dorothy Day, would comment:  " They're surely trying not to live a 'lightweight existence' ...right?"

Christian Peacemaker Teams is an ecumenical initiative to support violence reduction efforts around the world.  To learn more about CPT's peacemaking work, see:  www.cpt.org

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