Curiosity #44: The Art of Breaking Fast

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During the month of Ramadan, at approximately 5:30 every evening, many Muslims venture outside their homes to break the fast. By this point they haven’t consumed a single meal or beverage (water included) for over twelve hours and their bellies, roaring, wait for the signal to eat. It comes at sundown.

At a university campus ten minutes from my homestay, before daylight delivers its final wink, an ordinarily quiet street becomes a boisterous market. Students and families shuffle down the avenue as if in a one-way parade, choosing food from street-cart vendors tightly stationed along the side of the road. Among the options for purchase are fried spring rolls, grilled kabobs, fruit cups filled with shaved ice and condensed milk, and rice dishes of seemingly endless variety.

The pedestrians buy their foodstuffs of choice, some served in cutlery and others in plastic bags. Hands full of traditional cuisine, the pedestrians find spaces in the nearby grass where they can later enjoy their food. There they sit, remove their purchases from their respective plastic bags, and arrange their cutlery neatly in front of them. They wait. Cross their legs. They look at their food, which is fantastically aromatic, succulent, and colorful. They wait. The sun dims over the display and nothing is touched.

By the time the sun settles, pedestrians have filled every open space. The call to prayer rings out and, at last, the teeth flash. To a non-Muslim, the call to prayer sounds not unlike a somber plea or melodic cry of agony; but to the Muslims shoveling sustenance into their dry mouths, the call signals a time for thanks: the time to empty every bowl, to thank God that they can always ask for more before the sun rises.

A traditional dish in Yogya known as "Sup Buah," which consists of ice, condensed milk, fresh fruit, and the occasional sweet syrup

A traditional dish in Yogya known as “Sup Buah,” which consists of ice, condensed milk, fresh fruit, and the occasional sweet syrup

Curiosity #43: Tale From the Israeli Tour Guide at a Thai Restaurant in Java

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Scene: Arkansas, Little Rock, forgettable college campus, sun-roasted quad. The few Arab Muslims on campus, my Israeli friend included, welcome a stiff-wrinkled man who traveled here from Yemen to save his son from a tightfisted demon.

The situation is grave indeed. The son in question, also a university student (a smart boy with much promise) has begun smoking pot, drinking obsessively, and lazing about to the point where his university education and future prospects risk permanent ruin. Such transformation of character can only signify possession.

The father has already consulted Muslim leaders in his country for advice about his son’s condition. Over the phone, after hearing the symptoms exhibited by the boy, the Muslim leaders concluded that this possessive demon, both ancient and consuming, can only be expelled by a true expert in the art of exorcism, of which there is only one. Pray that you can find him, the leaders said, and that the old man is still alive.

Fortunately the boy’s father was a wealthy man. He hired someone to locate the exorcist suggested. At last the man was found in the hills of Yemen, ancient as the forces he challenged, and was brought to the poe-dunk American West where the possessed Muslim boy—neck deep in the pitch of American trash culture—awaited miraculous salvation.

Now. The boy’s father and the exorcist have both arrived in Arkansas. The autonomy of the boy’s soul must be restored. The father and exorcist, together with my Israeli friend and six other Muslim students and of course the Yemeni demoniac, truck out to the American countryside, forty minutes outside the city of Little Rock, where they have reserved an unfurnished house surrounded by nothing at all.

Fast forward to a large empty room. Seven men hold hands in a circle with the demoniac boy in the center. Close your eyes, says the exorcist, and whatever you hear or feel, don’t open them; nor should you separate your palm from that of your neighbor or else all, including your retracted limbs, will be lost.

The men close their eyes and listen as old man begins to pray in Arabic. After several moments the man’s voice rises into that of a woman, and then the woman’s voice transforms into an unrecognizable and frantic tongue. Cool breeze. The men in the circle feel a watery mist splash their skin as if they are on the shore of a rocky cove. And suddenly comes the voice of someone screaming in agony; not the voice of the boy, but of a spirit with a deep and foreign throat. The circle of men sweat through the screams and the mist. Then four minutes later, all is done. When everyone opens their eyes, the demoniac looks fully alert, wondering how on earth he arrived here surrounded by a circle of hand-holding men.

Later the party is informed that the boy had been possessed by a demon 3000 years old, and that this spirit was implanted inside the boy by a wealthy individual back in Yemen who, out of spite or jealousy, wished misfortune upon the family. The exorcist, empowered by a river spirit 4000 years old, was gifted with the ability to defeat the powers of the demon 1000 years his junior. And so all was well again for the Arabs in the good old American West.

An example of a document (image found online) used to summon Muslim demons for productive or destructive purposes

An example of a document (image found online) used to summon Muslim demons for productive or destructive purposes