MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is drawing to a close. For many of the pious, the end can't come soon enough. This year, Ramadan has fallen on the longest and hottest days of the year, and that means up to 15 hours of fasting in soaring temperatures.
But some Muslims indulge in secret, as NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro discovered on a visit to the Palestinian city of Ramallah.
NUHA MUSLEH: I'm thirsty from 7 o'clock in the morning 'til the evening. I'm in anguish.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: That's my Palestinian colleague Nuha Musleh. Like most of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world, she's fasting during the day. That means no food, no liquid, no smoking, no daytime sex - complete abstinence. And that, she says, makes people understandably cranky. She says complaining is a Ramadan habit, but she reserves her harshest criticism for those who don't observe the fast.
MUSLEH: There is such a thing as Ramadan rage, and it seems to be justified. People are hungry, people are thirsty; but be angry, be thirsty, have that Ramadan rage. I do not appreciate Muslims not fasting.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's that peer pressure, and fear of censure, that drives many non-fasting Muslims underground. Ramadan is the most important period of the Muslim religious calendar. People are asked to fast to feel closer to the poor, to purify their spirit and purge their sins. In some Middle Eastern countries, you can be arrested if you are caught not observing the fast. While the West Bank is more tolerant, no one wants their friends or family to know that they aren't abstaining.
(SOUNDBITE OF INDOOR CHATTER)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's lunchtime at Cafe Zaman in Ramallah, and it's crowded. But you wouldn't know it if you were standing outside, because the blinds are drawn to protect the identity of those inside from the eyes of the curious. There's a speakeasy atmosphere here. People's heads are down, as if they're doing something truly illicit. The wife of Palestinian government minister is ordering a salad for her lunch. But when we asked to interview her, she's horrified - and begs us not to mention her name because she'll be engulfed in scandal. Others are more forthcoming.
DIAB: Now, it's so hot, and the day is so long - too long. This is why I'm not fasting.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Diab. No last name, and no pictures, are the conditions of our interview. He suspects that there are many others like him, but he doesn't really know.
DIAB: Secretly - yes, I think so. Many people are not fasting, I think.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sitting next to him is Tarek. He's smoking and drinking coffee. He agrees with Diab.
TAREK: Yeah, yeah. I mean, the majority of the people who don't fast, we try to, you know - pretend that they are fasting.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says people sneak a meal in cafes - like this one - or at home, away from the eyes of others. Tarek says he doesn't volunteer the information that he's not fasting, but he tries to be honest. Others, though, aren't so upfront. One man who refused to have his voice recorded, for fear of exposure, tells me his wife thinks he's not eating or drinking when he's at work. He tells me this as he's chewing happily on a sandwich, in the middle of the afternoon.
(SOUNDBITE OF CALL TO PRAYER)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: At the main mosque in Ramallah, religious scholar Dr. Hussien Darwish says Islam allows exemptions from the fast for the elderly, the very young, the sick, and others.
DR. HUSSIEN DARWISH: (Foreign language spoken).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The imam says lately, some of the faithful have come to him and complained, saying they can't observe the fast in the terrible summer heat; and they ask for a reprieve. Smiling, Darwish says he reminds them that the Prophet Muhammad fasted in one of the hottest places on Earth, Saudi Arabia.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.
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