Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Sound of Silence


A few minutes ago, after a short afternoon nap, I stepped outside the door of my apartment in the Palestinian West Bank city of Ramallah. It was several minutes after sunset, and the city was almost dead silent.

The normal rush of cars and buses that usually zoom past our apartment on their way to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus, and other West Bank destinations were noticeably absent. The joyous shouts of children playing outside our window had disappeared. The sounds of city construction had halted momentarily. And even the wind seemed to be respecting the silence of the moment, for there was no rustle of tree leaves.

Even in the most isolated places, it’s rare to be able to sit and experience true, pure, unadulterated silence. But here, for several minutes, there was no sound in the air. In a world that seems to never stop, it was a moment of tranquil ecstasy.

Except for the birds. The birds were signing! They angered me in a way that animals never have before! How could these birds be so disrespectful of my moment of peace? An unexplainable rage bubbled inside of me. I wanted to curse the birds, yell at them for refusing to acknowledge everything else’s deference to silence. But they paid me no mind; they were never aware that their joy could taint such a blissful silence.

Frustrated at the birds’ blatant disregard for my wishes, I retired inside to make myself a cup of tea.


This is Ramadan in Ramallah. The silence was the sound of a fast being broken. It was the sound of Muslim families returning to their homes after a day of no eating and no drinking to eat an Iftar dinner and break their fasts together.

Ramadan is a time for family, prayer, religious observance, charity, and self-reflection. This holiest month of the Islamic calendar is a time to slow down from the bustle of everyday life to focus on the things that should be more important to us humans.

Throughout the month of Ramadan, for about an hour every day, this silence repeats. For me, it is the external manifestation of what Ramadan represents. For just a few moments every evening, if you pause and listen carefully, and cup your hand to your ear, you can hear the true heartbeat of Ramallah – family, hospitality, charity, and peace.

That is, of course, if the birds aren’t singing.


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