A New Rule of Thumb

Ramadan is coming to a close this weekend as I’m writing this piece. It’s gotten me thinking about things related to it. I had resolved to learn more about it this year, as I teach primarily Arab students who from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia who are Muslims.

Wilkes University has had a large Arabic student population since I began working there again in 2007. In my opinion, the school was taking a wise, if risky, choice in bringing these students to northeastern Pennsylvania since it’s not always the most welcoming and open kind of place. They have much to offer the area, but intolerance was a fear I had for them.

Luckily, the majority of the students I’ve interacted with at Wilkes who come from other countries have had mostly limited experiences with close-mindedness in the area. I’m glad for that as they are eager to be here for school and they long to learn more about the United States and what it means to be an American.

The Arabic students are not the only Muslim students I’ve met at Wilkes. Many have passed through my class from various parts of the world. Without hesitation I can say that the one characteristic they all share is compassion. I bet they learned this quality participating in the fast of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth lunar month and a month-long fast for devout Muslims. The fast each day begins at dawn and continues until sunset. I know about this fast—I’ve even gotten to help my Muslim friends break their fast with kind words, laughs and rich Medjool dates. But I hadn’t really fully understood what the purpose of the lengthy fast was until recently.

Sawm is a pillar of faith for the followers of Islam. This is the fast of Ramadan. Its purpose is to teach compassion for the downtrodden. Muslims fast to know poverty and to understand hunger, and in turn, better understand the plight of those who are less fortunate than they are.

Isn’t this a lesson we could all benefit from? Being able to see things empathetically can only add to not only our self-betterment, but more importantly, it can help us see that there are others in the world who need our help. Help is cheap. It only takes a little spare change, or an hour or two of one’s time. But help, for the recipient, could pay out better than the lottery.

People are afraid of what they don’t understand—I’m no exception. But different doesn’t equate bad. We’re all alike and it could just as easily be us in the hard situation praying for a hand from others to help us get back up again.

One of my students this semester taught me an Arabic proverb that stuck with me:

Even the five fingers on your hand are not the same.

I can’t recall the context he used the maxim in, but to me it means even though we’re all different, we’re still all fingers—fingers that are connected by the hand that can make life a bit better or easier for all of us collectively when we work together, offering that hand in a gesture of kindness.

Seems like a good new rule of thumb to me.

Marcie Herman Riebe

Marcie is a bilingual caseworker by day, a university adjunct by night, and an aspiring writer at times in between. An import to NEPA, she has been active in the arts for many years from theatre to forensics to music. Her interest in the arts continues as founder of Ink, an area writer's group, a founding member of Voce Angeli (NEPA's only all-female chamber choir), and as a columnist for Thirty-Third Wheel. She loves all things Pittsburgh, particularly the University of Pittsburgh where she earned her Master of Arts in Linguistics. She lives in Scranton with her handsome husband, Pete, and their horde of cats: Napoleon, King Ajax, Sam, and Dean.

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