Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/108

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given in charity, if he would ensure to himself a quick passage over the Pouli-sirath, on the day of judgment. Ostentation, indeed, is more frequently his motive than piety; but be the cause what it may, the effect is beneficial.

Charity may be said to be the pre-eminent virtue of Mahometan nations: there is not a moralist, not a poet, but recommends the practice of it, and sounds its praises. "Be ye like the trees laden with fruit and planted by the road-side," says Djami: "they give shade and fruit to all, even to those who pelt them with stones."

Most of the caravanserais of Persia, as well as the bridges, cisterns, mosques, colleges, and baths, are pious foundations.

Fasting is no less an obligation than purifications and prayer: it is termed by the doctors, the gate of religion. The fast of Ramazan alone is of divine command; the others are of human institution. It consists in abstaining from every kind of food from day-break till night, from all sin, and from temporal concerns, and the care of life, during the thirty days contained in that month: hence a perfect dervise is described to be a man living in this world in a perpetual Ramazan.

This month is the ninth in the year of the Persians, which is lunar: thus it runs through the different seasons, and falls in winter as well as in summer. When the moon of Ramazan appears, the muezzins announce it with a loud voice from the tops of the mosques, strike up hymns, and publish the commencement of the fast as the most welcome intelligence. The people reply to this intimation with shouts of joy, and in an instant all the shops are illuminated. At the same time, the trumpets sound at the doors of all the baths, to give notice that they are open; for this fast, like all other religious ceremonies, must begin with purification. Its conclusion is celebrated with greater solemnity than the commencement. The acclamations of the people, the sound of instruments, and all sorts of festivities, declare that a season of joy has succeeded a period of privation. These diversions are sometimes Continued five or six days. The fast of Ramazan must be extremely distressing in summer, when the days are long. Let the Catholic who murmurs against lent, which merely enjoins abstinence from certain articles of food, consider the Persian summoned betimes to his daily avocations, overpowered with heat, fatigue and hunger, taking as it were by stealth a few drops of water to quench his thirst, abstaining even from smoking, and waiting till the tardy departure of the sun shall allow him to break a fast of nearly seventeen hours!

In Persia, however, as in all other countries, there are persons ingenious enough to evade these disagreeable precepts, or to