Ramadan is the month-long holiday of day-time fasting, prayer and other practices observed by people of the Muslim faith. It ended yesterday, making today Eid al-Fitr. What does that have to do with me and bicycling? I’m glad you asked, so I’ll tell you. Recently I wrote about self-compassion. And then I met a man on a bike ride who was only riding at night. When asked why, he said it was because he was observing Ramadan. No water or food until nightfall, and then biking? To me that was impressive because it showed some serious dedication to both his religion and his sport. He’s a Nigerian living in Texas.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in Kenya, a fellow blogger posted a story about encountering a poor woman on the street. She too is an African Muslim who was observing Ramadan. But despite the blogger being charitable and giving away some of her money, the beggar still berated her, and told her it was not enough. One of the teachings of Islam is to be additionally generous during this month, and so she grappled with doing that but not receiving the gratitude she expected. The two encounters were too coincidental not to share.
Nigerian Ramadan Night Rider
The friendly man but fierce bicyclist goes by Afolabi “El Pistolero” – the nickname of famous professional bike tour rider Alberto Contador. But he told me to call him Flo. You can check out his profile on the fitness app Strava. When I expressed incredulity that he could go all day without food and water and then at night go bike riding, Flo just said it was part of his faith. The fast is not continued at night so one can eat and drink before sunrise and after sunset. But he also explained to me something I did not know about Ramadan.
That lesson? The deprivation Muslims endure all day is not just for spiritual improvement. It is also to teach practitioners about compassion for others who have less than you. When you walk a mile in someone’s shoes (even if you have a more comfortable pair to put on at night), you have more understanding and a charitable approach to the poor. How many people of certain other faiths go through this very personal and challenging experience for 30 days? Few, I bet.
Flo also has showed me compassion by stopping to talk to a stranger when he didn’t have to (twice!), telling me I was a handsome dude who should definitely get into dating apps, and agreeing to let me write about him and his faith. But he has also proven his discipline. He keeps his faith practice, which can cause dehydration and other health issues, but then he doesn’t just bike along for fun. Flo bikes at night, on roads with no shoulders, where very few other cyclists seem to go, and now that it’s over, on more dangerous roads even further during the day and in the heat.
To be honest, A Dude’s not a big fan of religion – they all seem a bit, uh, strange and unscientific to me. They also seem to be the cause of a helluva lotta wars, which A Dude despises. (Ever hear of the Crusades and the Inquisition, folks?) I wrote about my own faith, or lack thereof, in my post In Bike I Trust: The Faith of an Agnostic Athiest Cyclist. Of course I barely even met Flo, and nobody’s perfect. But when I meet someone who really seems to walk the talk, the lyrics of the Queen of Soul, singer Aretha Franklin come to mind: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find out what it means to me.”
Kenyan Contemplates Kindness, Compassion
Twalha, who goes by Twali, is the author of Café avec Twali. She wrote a post titled “In her shoes: My lesson on Compassion.” In it, she shared her encounters with a woman less fortunate than herself. Her story begins:
“In the spirit of the Holy month of Ramadan, I decided to use these 30 days not only to fulfill my duties as a Muslim but also to discover some of the things that I needed to change. To do so, I had to be brutally honest with myself & reflect back on the situations that I felt brought out the worst in me.
There is a path I normally take when I want to visit some shops or a friend. I see an old, poor woman in rags siting near a mosque with a huge bag of I-don’t-know-what near her. The first time I saw her, my heart felt sad. She looked so fragile & tiny. I wondered where her family was. She saw me & asked for some change, which I did give her. She looked at the money then raised her head “Only this?!” I let out a nervous laugh & told her it was all I had at the moment. She actually spat near my shoes & screamed “USHINDWE!” A term used to rebuke Satan, loosely translating to “Be defeated!”.
Umm.…what just happened?!?
I thought it was a good thing to help someone in need. Why was I being treated this way? I felt my temper starting to rise but I chose to walk away instead. That’s what I’d decide to do if any one treated me with disrespect. I thought it ended there but oh noooo. It didn’t.”
I won’t spoil her blog, you must go read it for yourself. But she saw the woman in a different light, and that led her to reevaluate her rigidly held beliefs. In so doing, she acted the bigger person, dug deeper into her innately good human nature (which I believe we all have as our birthright), and she matured a bit. To me, this story and the way she wrote it were beautiful, even though it was an ugly situation. Twali has made a number of likes and comments on my blog posts, and always with grace, humor and love. This is the sort of person I want to know, regardless of color or creed.
But also, Twali revealed her inner beauty was revealed and shone bright when she reflected upon herself in a way that wasn’t just compassionate with herself but also with her adversary. When seeing another human having her own struggles and her own and unknown reasons for her actions with clearer eyes and a kind heart, there can be more understanding and less hatred.
There was also the honesty with which she re-examined her behavior and related her experience. Her next post is about standing up to a toxic person that hurt her in her life. Sometimes to be compassionate, you have to distance yourself. But she showed me that a blog can be a powerful thing, and even more so by really digging deep into our own humanity so that others can share in it. We have so much more in common with other people than what we don’t. Like how human DNA varies from primate DNA by only a few percentage points.
What Does It All Mean, Dude?
Taken together, I found these thoughts and actions to be rather remarkable. These are qualities people of all and no religions can and do aspire to. For me the moral of the story is about taking a breath, being open to other paradigms, cultures and realities outside of our narrow, sometimes fearful little bubbles. To be bold and take a chance, to speak your truth, and to do the hard thing. No risk, no reward. By doing this, not only will you maybe make a new friend, but you may also change the world, one heart at a time.
Especially your own heart.
The kind of world I want to live in is about compassion and kindness. Not the fake news one so often found on TV that tells us that people who look, talk, act and believe differently are our so-called “enemies”. I dream a world where sworn enemies play soccer / football together. (It’s called the World Cup and it’s happening now.) Sure, sometimes they play too hard and hurt themselves and others. And in competitive sport for every winning team, there is one that loses. But there are also hugs and smiles, or at least handshakes, at the end. FIFA, soccer’s governing body, even has a campaign to get fans rom opposing teams to post a photo together called #RivalHug.
So thank you, Afolabi and Twali. We’re all works in progress, and anyone who doesn’t admit that is a piece of work… in progress too.
Peace / Salaam / Shalom,
A Dude A Bikes
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