The men sat cross-legged, anxiously waiting for twilight to creep over Phnom Penh.
They were 40 Cham Muslims sitting on either side of a long row of curry dishes and
5:55pm... just ten minutes till the brethren would break their 13-hour fast, yet
the minutes felt like hours.
Also in the congregation at this little mosque on the eastern end of the Japanese
bridge was a visitor from a distant oil-producing nation. He was a picture of patience
He joined the Cambodian chams to observe the holy month of Ramadan - one of the pillars
of the Islamic faith, whose influence extends from Morocco to Mindanao and beyond.
Ramadan was the month in 610AD when the Angel Gabriel is said to have recited the
Word of God to the Prophet Mohammed.
The muezzins who stood watch atop minarets across Cambodia this Ramadan, so the story
goes, had to wait an extra night for a full moon, before starting this year's observances.
In Cambodia the ritual began on Jan 10, a day behind ASEAN countries with large Muslim
populations, and will end Feb 9. According to experts, the 30-day fast is all about
self-control and submission to the will of God.
"Ramadan is like going back to school for those who have committed mischief
during the rest of the year," said Member of Parliament Ahmad Yahya, a key leader
of the Cham community in the Kingdom.
"When I fast during Ramadan, I become stronger, because I control myself and
give up my bad intentions," added Zakariah Adam, another prominent Cham figure.
Not only does one refrain from eating or drinking during daylight, one must also
temper the baser instincts - physical desires and thoughts about sex, for instance.
"When we fast during Ramadan, we have to stay away from the women, because they
are too attractive and distract us from our duty to God," said Sulaiman Mohammed,
an expatriate Sudanese.
Somehow Muslims manage to go about their normal routines, while fasting and squeezing
five prayers into the day. Those who are too busy to visit their local Mosque or
stop by home for their prayers, will carry their prayer rugs while on the go.
Some particularly devout Muslims will pray on rugs that even have compasses woven
into them. The exact coordinates for pinpointing Mecca from any place on Earth are
listed in accompanying logbooks.