Its Ramadan – anybody up for a picnic?

You might (or might not) be aware, but we are currently in the middle of Ramadan.  It started on Wednesday, the 11th of August and will continue for 30 days until Thursday, the 9th of September.  Now, some of you might not too familiar with the concept, so let me explain. Once a year Muslim believers fast for one month, well, sort of fast.  What they actually do is refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise until sunset, so the net effect is that the moment the sun drops, the entire Muslim population proceeds to stuff themselves silly.  No, its not really a fast is it. As a side observation, it must be a real bitch to be a Muslim on a summer Arctic expedition during Ramadan (Land of the midnight sun and all that) :-)

OK, so far its a “So what?” blog post. Now this is the part where it becomes of interest to us, and also quite serious.

It just so happens that the law of several Muslim countries (the usual suspects of course) mandate that Ramadan must be obeyed. Failure to do so can result in penalties such as fines or even pubic flogging. A specific example is article 222 of Morocco’s penal code which states

A person commonly known to be a Muslim who violates the fast in a public place, without having one of the justifications allowed by Islam [traveling, sickness etc…] shall be punished by one to six months in prison

Well of course, what else did you expect. Its the typical response from the religion of peace. Basically lock up, or beat the crap out of anybody who dares to flout one of their silly made-up rules.

Now where this gets really interesting is that during Ramadan last year a group located in Morocco called “Alternative Movement for Individual Freedoms” [I like that name] decided to hold a picnic in the commercial capital to protest against this. They argued that article 222 was in breach of freedom of choice [of course it is] and also observed that Morocco had legal obligations that it was committed to as part of its constitution. [of course they do] So what happened? I sure you can guess, before one bite was taken, the police were all over them.

It rapidly escalated and became a national emergency. They even had an Islamic council declaring it to be an insult to God, but then they would, since such councils appear to make an entire career out of being offended by anything un-Islamic. In the end the picnic protesters were held and questioned, but thankfully no fines were imposed and no time was served in prison. Police later justified their detainment on the basis that they needed to be protected from the mob. Najib Chaouki, one of the campaigners, later explained:

We respect religion, but the problem is that people think public space is only for the majority who are believers

This year has not seen a repeat, somebody whispered in their ears that it would not be a great idea. Least you wonder, subtle delicate gentle hints being whispered at them in this context translates into “Death Threats”. Thats no exaggeration, but also not a huge surprise.

If curious to find out more, you can check out Najib’s blog. Be warned, its in Arabic and French, no English. [subtle hint … Google Translator is your friend]

So, has anybody supported the non-fasters? Well yes, a few brave Moroccans have done so, including the editors of the country’s first gay magazine (published for the time being in Spain for fairly obvious reasons).

The bottom line here is that this is all about a very basic freedom of conscience and the conflict generated when individuals are prepared to stand up and not be dictated to by a primitive barbaric superstition. My heartfelt admiration goes out to these few brave individuals prepared to stand up for freedom and in doing so risk everything including their very lives. Ponder this thought, if you lived in such an oppressive culture would you take such a stance in the knowledge of what might happen if you did so? Now with that thought in mind, step back and applaud them for their courage.

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