In an Islamist age, there are bound to be some piquant and cruel stories about governments and self-appointed enforcers of morality insisting that the Ramadan fast be followed, no matter what. I will keep an eye on some of the more interesting episodes here.
Note the contrast with those sweet stories of non-Muslims volunteering to fast during Ramadan, which I collected here.
Saudi Arabia: The Saudi authorities have ordered that everyone in the country, non-Muslims as well as Muslims, abide by the restrictions of Ramadan (which begins on Oct. 15). That means they must abstain from eating, drinking, and smoking in public during the daylight hours. This is required, the Interior Ministry says, to "respect Muslims' feelings." The ministry calls on institutions, firms and individuals to "understand the text of this statement and explain it to their employees and workers, warning them of the consequences of such violations." It warned that that ignoring these regulations could mean deportation. "Authorities will take deterrent measures such as terminating work contracts of, and deporting, violators."
Comment: This is a logical step for the Wahhabis to take, part of their relentless pressure bordering on coercion to push the foreign residents of Saudi Arabia (for that's who the non-Muslims are, there being no such thing as a non-Muslim Saudi) to convert to Islam. (October 11 2004)
Pakistan: In the aftermath of Pakistan's devastating earthquake, Islamabad-based Mohammed Mustafa went to the town of Bagh, with his "striped polo-shirt, beige trousers and better English grammar than most people in the UK." There he set up a communal outdoor kitchen, cooking 1,200 meals a day for hungry survivors. Of course, preparing so many people means much preparation – lighting fires, boiling rice and cooking meat – over a period of hours.
But the month being Ramadan, a local imam paid Mustafa a visit. "What are you doing?" he shouted. "Don't you know it's Ramadan now? This is just not permitted. You can't cook food during the day. It's against Islam. Stop or I'll burn this place down – your tents, your pots, everything."
To which Mustafa replied, "Surely, if the people are hungry they must eat? Look, they're suffering. I'm a Muslim too. These people have nothing, they need this food." The vitriolic exchange ended with a compromise. "Cook in the day if you must," the imam conceded, "but if I see anyone here eating during daylight hours I'll be back and I'll set this place alight." (October 16 2005)
Malaysia: Kelantan, the only Malaysian state under the control of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), the Islamist party, now boasts what Agence France-Presse calls an "undercover Islamic team" looking for Muslims who violate Ramadan. Plain-clothes officers spy on food outlets and dispense fines of 20 ringgit, or US$6, to cheaters. Muslim food outlets that open before 3 p.m. face fines of 500 ringgit, or $144. (September 17, 2007)
Iran: A judge in Kermanshah sentenced a Christian man to have his lips burnt with a cigarette for his having eating during Ramadan. The punishment was carried out in a public square. Oh, and five Muslim men were flogged in public with 70 lashes for not fasting. (July 23, 2014)