Zia’s toxic traditions plague Pakistan to this day

Travel tip – never visit Pakistan during Ramadan. Sahar Majid explains why.

In 1981, Zia issued an ordinance officially prohibiting public eating and drinking during Ramadan’s fasting hours. The dictate also forced public restaurants and eateries to close. Anyone breaking this rule could face three months in jail and a fine of about $5. (Luckily, the ordinance exempts food service in hospitals, schools, airports, and train and bus stations.)

Eating and drinking – so if you’re visiting Pakistan during Ramadan you can’t even walk around with a bottle of water and drink from it when you get thirsty.

Zia’s toxic traditions plague Pakistan to this day. His Ehtram-e-Ramzan (“reverence for Ramadan”) ordinance remains in effect because no subsequent government has dared go against it for fear of angering religious scholars and parties. While the law is not enforced as strictly throughout the country as it once was, there have been arrests for violating its provisions in recent years.

There’s a lesson for us – once you let theocracy in, it’s very hard to get rid of it. I’m looking at you, SCOTUS 5.

The practice of fasting is meant to instill a sense of tolerance, compassion, and empathy. If you are fasting but unable to behave well – if you refrain from eating and drinking all day, but not from backbiting, lying, bickering, and other misbehavior – it is not worth the effort.

Simply starving will not get you into the good books of the angels. It might help you lose a few pounds, but you can do that by eating less and exercising.

It is good for your body, mind, and soul if you are devoted to pleasing God and will go to any length for that purpose.

No, it is not – it is not good for the body. Fasting is not good for the body, and going without water is terrible for the body. Inserting the word “god” into it does nothing to change that.

But she ends well.

As for me, I don’t fast. I believe religion is a matter between me and my God, and I don’t need to observe fasting just to prove myself pious.

As far as pleasing God is concerned, I think he will be pleased if you take care of his people. And, by the way, you can do that each day of the entire year – not just for one month!

That. If only more people thought of pleasing god in those terms! Instead they do the opposite.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    For terribly boring reasons, I was on a mailing list where there were a bunch of Mormons. One Mormon woman sent out a broadcast email that some old Mormon guy in Utah was ill, advising us all to “pray and fast”.

    I never understood how my not eating a cheeseburger was supposed to have anything to do with his medical condition.

  2. Sili says

    The Muslim fast certainly isn’t healthy.

    But apparently the 5+2 diet is pretty effective.

  3. Pen says

    One of the few good things you could say about the fasting tradition is that it’s quite good to have enough control over your habits to be able to change them at will. All of which is lost when the change is forced on you and you have no choice.

    PS: I agree that going without water all day in hot countries isn’t likely to be good for you, but eating two meals per 24 hour period when it’s dark instead of three meals when it’s light seems neutral, provided you don’t take the opportunity to pig out on cakes and snacks… (!)

  4. johnthedrunkard says

    The Ramadan fast has murky, and I think, pre Mohammedan origins.

    I read recently (citation needed) that post-sundown gorging makes Ramadan a season of weight gain for many Muslims. All that plus dangerous dehydration! And the sunup-sundown time requirement applies at ALL latitudes, the implications in Scandinavia and Canada are downright frightening.

  5. says

    I don’t think it’s really neutral; smaller more frequent meals are better than two huge meals per day.

    Also there’s a difference between habits and physical requirements. Yes, we have a habit of eating, but that’s because we need to eat.

    I squandered a lot of time on Sunday arguing with a guy on the British Muslims for Secular Democracy page who calls himself a life coach and offered to teach everyone to get an hour less of sleep every night. Yeah no – sleep is not a habit it’s good to break.

  6. Decker says

    @ 4

    Yeah, it’s not fasting in the sense of Lent where observant Christians reduce their overall daily caloric intake. Ramadan is about abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours. Once the sun sets you could eat an entire cheesecake if you wanted to.

    In Sweden at this time of year there are about 20 hours of daylight during which observant Muslims are forbidden from eating and drinking. So they’ve only about four hours to jam and cram a day’s worth of food down their throats…a practice that isn’t very healthy.

    Proof if ever there was that superstition can override reasoned thought in humans.

  7. karmacat says

    Interestingly enough, if you don’t eat for 18 hours, your body goes into starvation mode. If you starve yourself enough, you can trigger an eating disorder and end up having anorexia nervosa-like symptoms, such as picking at food, having rituals with eating, worrying about wt. gain. The other interesting fact is the way sumo wrestlers gain so much weight is by eating just one huge meal a day.

  8. Blanche Quizno says

    When I was a horse-crazy young girl, I read a loosely-based-in-fact story about a great Arabian stallion. As it opened, his mother was pregnant with him – and the young, conscientious stable boy was very concerned, because the horses were forced to fast during Ramadan, too, including this very pregnant mare.

    Why are Muslims so stupid?

  9. Pen says

    …because the horses were forced to fast during Ramadan

    The irony is that fasting is supposed to be a voluntary personal choice, and is traditionally definitely NOT expected of the very young, elderly, sick and pregnant women who feel they had better no. But now, there may definitely be extra pressures to holiness in some regions of the world. Does anyone know what goes on in hospitals in very Islamic parts of the world during Ramadan? If there were a tendency to promote fasting for the sick and elderly, you might expect an increased death rate during the month.

    In Sweden at this time of year there are about 20 hours of daylight during which observant Muslims are forbidden from eating and drinking.

    It really illustrates how culture doesn’t always transport well. The areas Islam has mostly occupied for centuries are all gathered around the equator.

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