Ramadan 2013: We are ALL Africans


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Ramadan Kareem to all my Muslim friends and family!

I find myself actively taking part in Ramadan 2013, with 14 days of fast. This is not a conscious decision; it is totally by coincidence. And it is not so easy, since I am surrounded by all the foods I like -fruits and vegetables- that I cannot touch until after the 14 days (my fast is coming with a twist). Moreover I am babysitting two little kids…whom I have to feed during the day…without touching or tasting their food.

But  I am glad it is happening, and I can share this special moment with my friends and family. Those who know me have had that, if I were to attach myself to any [dis]organized religions we are bombarded with in this world, I would be a muslim. I know you might be thrown off with surprise that I DO NOT subscribe to any religion. You are not the first; my family cannot believe it either! Nor my friends!

“How can you not have a religion?”

Well, it is possible, I often say

“So, you do not believe in God?,” the questions continue

“Well, maybe I do not believe in God as you think of him/her. But that does not mean I have no faith or belief system. My religion 

is humanity.

See, as I grew up, I made a conscious decision NOT to subscribe to any religious group, after my experiences with, especially Christianity and all its relatives. I grew up around three main religions – Protestant, Catholicism and Islam – within my family and among friends. My mother is of a double religion in a way – father’s immediate family is predominantly Catholic, although her father was Protestant. Apparently, her father grew up with a Protestant family, and went on to become a Protestant Reverend (Preacher). So  my mother and her family took after he daddy. Of course, within my own family are inter-religious marriages, bringing us a variety. As I grew up, I went in and out of the revivalist evangelist religions imported into Uganda from, especially North America – Baptist, Pentecostal, methodist, ….

Talking about friends, my best friend in elementary school was muslim. During Ramadan, she would invite myself and a couple of her other friends to break the day’s fast at her family home. I remember us feasting on rice (the origin of my LOVE for rice) with beef, fresh fruits and juices! It did not matter that we were not muslim, we were allowed to eat to our fill. Similarly, area mosques would feed anyone who came to eat at the mosque during the “break of the fast” every evening at seven O’clock.

That and other experiences have shaped my outlook on Islam. Plus, I was once engaged to be married to a Senegalese, and I lived and conducted graduate research in Senegal.

Senegalese are one of the best people the world has ever blessed us with, that I wonder if it is the African in them or the religion. In 2007, family and friends still eat together on one large plate, like we did as kids at my grandmother’s place. If one’s family brought him/her lunch food at work, they would park for more mouths to feed, and five or more of us would  eat together. Senegalese also have this level of contentment with who they are and what they have. I do not know if that is derived from or shapes their belief system? Perhaps that explains why they have NEVER changed political power through a military coup!

Now I have a moslem family, not only among my sister’s marriages, but my son’s grandparents who are practicing muslims. I respect that and I enjoy watching as they commune together, in food, worship and sharing. To me, Islam manifests itself as a communitarian bond not a religion, contrary to the Christian religions I grew up with. The way they were pushed to me was exclusionist, “if you do not believe in JC, you go to Hell.”

Why I am saying all this? Well, because as I was reflecting on Ramadan 2013, it appeared to me as the opportune tagline for “We are ‘ALL] Africans, the name of my blog. The communitarianism that comes with Ramadan, when we are all invited to feast and share in

the celebration is a key branding of the African spirit of Ubuntu or humaness. That we, Africans care and lookout for one another more than any other grouping in the world. Although I have strong reservations about that.

First, if human origin is in Africa, then all humans are Africans with the spirit of Ubuntu. Secondly, do we Africans really have a monopoly of Ubuntu, when we are branded the world over as the center of senseless killings, human sacrifice, wars, hunger, famine and mal-government? How is it possible for all that to exist with Ubuntu?

After spending about a month (May 21 to June 20) visiting Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen), I am inclined to say that, perhaps Scotts have a thing to teach Africans and the world about Ubuntu. They, like Senegalese are some of the most POSITIVE spirited people I have EVER encountered. and YES! they live almost their entire calendar year wearing sweaters because of the cold (similar to northern America and European), which is often an excuse for “why people are cold to one another”. But they are pure spirited, positive, kind and loving. They voluntarily offer to be good, to speak to strangers, to help out a stranger and to talk to one another. It was odd  (though shocking to “the American” in me) to hear my best friend, we had gone to visit, strike up a conversation the cab driver, even in a city like Edinburgh. In New York City, you sit in the cab, shut your mouth until you are paying to disembark. No conversation, no contact with the cab driver.

While plenty of restaurants are bars where kids are not allowed, once you find one, sitting is not allocated based on “color of your skin” -at least it appeared to me. If a seat is available, anyone will take it. We talk to one another at the bus stop, in a shopping or grocery store and on the streets. A stranger will waive down a taxi for you because he overheard you talking about finding one. The spirit of the Scotts is absolutely golden and beautiful that it makes me wonder, if our focus should not be on humanity in our midst, rather than subscribing to those religions whose home is NOT here…but in some imagined place! Perhaps the Scotts are the true Africans and home to our promised land – of free giving and Ubuntu!

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