(A barren stage.)
(THE MUSLIM wears a taqiyah [cap] and holds a Quran. He speaks with an American accent.)
I’m hungry. I mean, I am hungry. And I don’t mean hungry as in “Let’s grab a slice of pizza” or hungry as in “Gimme a bite of your waffle.” No, I mean hungry as in: It’s five p.m. and I haven’t eaten since 4:30. This morning.
This is no accident, of course. This is in fact the furthest thing from an accident. This is my religious duty. This is Ramadan, and you know what that means (Beat) Well, actually, most of you probably don’t know what that means. Most of you are probably Protestant. But you may have some idea, at the very least, why I’m hungry and how Ramadan, the mother of all Muslim holidays, bears some correlation to this hunger.
Ramadan means “No.” No eating, no drinking, no smoking, no sex. From sunup till sundown we go without all of our earthly pleasures. Except golf. I don’t think the Quran says anything about golf. Only eating, drinking, smoking, and sex. Now, I can do without smoking, of course. And drinking and sex––those can wait until evening. But the eating. That’s the hard part. That’s the part that gets so much press. We have to fast all day and pray more than ever. Of course, the fact that I’m starving myself only makes me pray for a freakin’ lamb chop! Sorry. Just thinking out loud.
We are not to eat for twenty-eight days. And all I can say is: Jesus. I mean, doing this for a day or two, or even a week––or even ten days, like those insane juice diets people go on to clean out their intestines––that’s the sort of thing I can get behind. But a whole month! That really tests your devotion. I mean, I try to console myself with the fact that it’s only one month out of the year, but actually it’s not. We’re talking about the Islamic calendar, which is lunar, which means basically it moves backwards on the solar calendar by about eleven days each year, which means the damn thing comes early every year! Every year it comes earlier and earlier!
A backwards-moving holiday. How’s that for metaphor? That’s what people think, anyway. Right? It’s backwards? Who in their right mind would spend all that time fasting?
Now, of course, there are other rules to Ramadan. And exceptions to the rules. For example: old people, sick people, the mentally ill––they don’t have to fast. Although the first two groups have to feed the poor in exchange. Whether the poor have to wait till sundown to eat the food is unclear––but anyway, pregnant women, too, are off the hook. And we don’t know whether they’re supposed to make up the days they miss, or feed the poor instead. Muslim scholars differ on this matter. People who are traveling are also exempt from fasting, but they do have to make up those days–-unless of course they also happen to be old or sick or mentally ill.
Anyway, all this talk about food is making me hungry. So what else do we do? As I mentioned, we pray. And we’re supposed to read the entire Quran. What do you think of that, Christians? None of that John 3:16 or Isaiah 40:31. We do the whole thing. Unabridged. Some of us even––and by “some,” I mean not me––some of us even recite the entire thing in prayer over the course of the month. There’s also some gift-giving, and helping the poor, and spending time with family. (Beat) Basically it’s Christmas on an empty stomach. It’s not for sissies, that’s all I know. Maybe that’s what scares people.
It does scare people, doesn’t it? I think it even scares Muslims. And of course we know what this fear comes from––primarily what it comes from––so I don’t need to get into that, now do I? You can’t really have a conversation about Islam in this country without talking about you-know-what. So I don’t even need to mention it. But when I avoid mentioning it, that only calls attention to the fact that I’m not mentioning it, which in turn calls attention to it. That thing which goes unmentioned. So let’s just assume that by refusing to mention it I have in fact mentioned it, and move on.
So. Why Ramadan? Why do we do it? To unite our community? To remind ourselves of the suffering of those less fortunate? To test our will and devotion to God? To look inside ourselves and examine what really matters? No. We do it because of the Jews. That’s right. In fact, the first fast took place on Yom Kippur, under Muhammad’s orders, so that his followers might commemorate the Jewish flight from Egypt. It was only later moved to the month of Ramadan because that is when the Quran was revealed to our Prophet.
So what do we make of this? Huh? The fact that our most important month-long celebration––if you can call twelve hours a day of hunger pains a celebration––seems to be an appropriation of the most important Jewish holy day? Huh? What do we say to that? Well, I’m not here to debate theology or scripture. I’m not well read. That’s not even one of the Five Pillars of Islam, did you know that? No, no, the Five Pillars are belief, prayer, charity, fasting––
––and the Hajj. That big pilgrimage to Mecca? Nowhere in the Five Big Ones does it say we have to be well read. Which is good, because, you know, I’m a slow reader and the last thing I need is a bunch of speed-reading eggheads telling me they’re holier than I.
But don’t look at the Yom Kippur thing as theft. One faith leads to another. Inevitably. Think of it as Islam’s coming of age. We matured. Kind of like a young man striking out on his own. But don’t look at it as turning our backs on the Jews either. Or like we’re some ungrateful college student who won’t come home to see his parents for the holidays. It’s just…evolution, that’s all it is. Religious, spiritual evolution.
Anyway, I think the sun is going down. Yep. It’s getting dark. And you know what that means. That means it’s almost time. Almost time––finally––to get a bite to eat! But first I gotta pray.
Kuros Charney’s plays include Shame and Desire (Stella Adler Theatre), recommended by the LA Weekly for its “delicious script,” The Man from Brazoria County (Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights New Works Lab), The Moving Forward of Souls (Coronet Theatre), Anger (Elephant Theatre), The Silent Exile (Finalist: Dorothy Silver Playwriting Competition; staged at multiple NYC theatre readings), Body Language (semi-finalist: Susan Nims Distinguished Playwriting Award; Last Frontier Theatre Conference), The Obliterati (Julie Harris Playwriting Award, Second Winner; Princess Grace Award, Runner-up), The Gods of Great Men (William Inge Center for the Arts), and The Humanist (Dayton Playhouse; Jewish Ensemble Theatre; North Coast Repertory; Urban Stages). He has also been honored as an Edward Albee Fellow and a William Inge Center playwright-in-residence.