Re: "Religion makes you poorer but happier", Opinion, March 25.
This article asks why, during Ramadan, Muslims are happier when the fasting day is longer; and why, if that’s the case, they don’t fast more often and for longer.
I experienced two Ramadans while working in Saudi Arabia. During the daytime most of my Muslim co-workers were sluggish and grumpy. You’d be sluggish and grumpy, too, if you couldn’t touch a drop of water or a crumb of food in that searing heat from dawn to dusk. But they were euphorically happy when sunset came and they could eat and drink at last.
That’s natural. But there was a more subtle reason for their happiness that is hard for secularists to understand. Muslims are monotheists. Monotheists believe in a supreme being who controls the universe and determines our destinies. Just as children are happy when they’ve done something that pleases their parents, so monotheists are happy when they’ve done something that they believe pleases that supreme being. The more pleased they think it is, the happier they’re likely to be.
If fasting is pleasing to Allah, why don’t Muslims fast more often, and longer? Because they believe that Allah, out of compassion for human weakness, asks them to fast only for a month, and only during the daytime hours. Overdoing it might displease him.
While Islam is not my favourite religion, its less extreme forms have achieved a balance between worldly and religious activity that other religions might benefit from studying.