Guillaume Maillet, a French medical student, observes Ramadan (a holy month for Muslims). For him it’s a gift to his girlfriend. “I’ve been observing Ramadan for the past two years and I think I’ll observe it again in the future. I’ve nothing to lose. It’s manageable physically; and I think it’s an ideal way to prove my love to my better half,” Maillet says.
At the same time Guillaume doesn’t want to go overboard, he fasts only on his days off from work. He enjoys the serene ambiance at home before breaking the day’s fast. “In the evening, I love sharing Iftar (the first meal to break the day’s fast) with my girlfriend. There is a tiny notion of a reward and there is something euphoric about the whole thing.” He recalls the excitement during Christmas when Santa Claus climbs down the chimney to leave gifts. “We wait in excitement, day and night on 24th (Christmas eve), to discover our gifts the next day,” says Maillet.
While Maillet says the process reminds him to think about those who are starving, he admits that he wasn’t motivated by spirituality to observe Ramadan.
“I don’t drink…not even on the sly!”
God, Islam, mektub (destiny), spirituality, religion…these words often come to the mind during the month of Ramadan. However they aren’t very significant to Jean-Pierre Malvis. The 32-year-old French engineer already finds it hard to follow Catholic principles. Unlike Maillet, Malvis observes Ramadan for only one or two days as a sign of “solidarity and respect for his wife.”
“I just follow whatever she does. I don’t eat, I don’t smoke and I restrict myself from the same activities as she does. And imagine this….I don’t drink, not even on the sly!”
So what does he learn after an entire day of fasting? Nothing much, admits this agnostic who describes himself as someone who doesn’t take fasting too seriously. “Apart from the fact that historically Ramadan is for the rich, who deprive themselves of all luxuries to experience what the poverty-stricken people go through, I find no other reason than this,” Malvis says. He bitterly adds “At least I know that I’ll eat in the evening but the poor don’t know when they will eat next. This is something I find strange in Ramadan.”
This, however, is not the case for 24-year-old Miguel Chemin, resident of Arceuil, in the Parisien banlieue. He immerses himself in the religious ambiance which characterizes this sacred month. A Christian who converted to Islam after marrying a Tunisian woman, Chemin doesn’t observe Ramadan partially. He fasts during the entire month and increases his religious activities. “The first time I fasted only for the first four days but for the past four years I observe fasts the entire month,” says Chemin.
“Ramadan purifies my soul and washes away my sins”
Armed with faith and desire, Miguel Chemin observes the fast only for God. Initially he did it to please his girlfriend. Our relationship was in its early stages and it was important to show her family that it was something serious. Today he thinks the benefits are countless. “Ramadan purifies my body and soul. It washes away all my sins and helps me get a step closer to the master of the Universe. For Chemin “Tomorrow, even if I’m no longer with my wife, I would continue to follow the same path; it’s mektub (destiny). God wanted my life’s path to cross with that of Islam.”
How many Christians observe Ramadan in France? A question that leaves an official at the Paris Mosque surprised. He admits that they never pondered over the question. “It’s true that many Christians come to the mosque to eat during Iftar but we never thought of asking them if they were fasting or not; it’s a sensitive question related to their personal life,” he admits.
Close to 4 million Muslims live in France. It’s the country’s second religion after Christianity. Mixed marriages are also on the rise. According to statistics published by the National Institute of Demographic Studies or INPED, close to 20,000 mixed marriages took place in 2006 alone.