The Joys of Ramadan
22.09.2007 20 °C
As promised, I am giving you an additional update this weekend. Who knew that I would actually keep my word on this one?
In any case, the month of Ramadan is upon us, so I wish you a “Ramadan mubarak sa'id,” or what amounts to “Happy Ramadan.” For those of you are unfamiliar, Ramadan is a month in the Islamic lunar calendar during which the Prophet Mohammed received the Qur’an (or Koran; the Islamic holy book) from Allah. What this entails for a Muslim is that he or she must abstain from many activities permitted by Allah from the first prayer call of the day (fajr, which is right before sunrise) until the next to last prayer call (maghrib, which is right after sunset). For example, here in Ifrane the current times for beginning and ending is from around 4:30 AM until 6:30 PM, although these times are getting closer together, since the days are shortening. During these hours, people are supposed to abstain from any sort of eating, drinking (even water), smoking, and sexual activity.
Now that I’ve given you the encyclopedic definition of Ramadan, I’d like to let you know what it’s like to be in a Muslim country during Ramadan. Even though Morocco is a fairly liberal country in its interpretation of Islam, Ramadan is a very serious event here; one way of putting it is that their strict adherence to the fast makes up for their lack of adherence to the other four pillars of Islam! Seriously, though, life in Morocco changes completely during Ramadan. Even on our campus, which is home to a large number of non-Muslim students, many campus services close around 3:30 in the afternoon and don’t reopen until after ftour, or the breaking of the fast. This doesn’t apply to places on campus alone; while in Fes last weekend, I was at Marjane (think something resembling a Wal-Mart Supercenter) when we were asked to go and check out, because the store was about to close. At 6 PM! That – combined with the fact that the alcohol section of the store was completely closed off – was one of the more surprising things I saw there.
So, with no food and nothing to drink, what is a person supposed to do? Well, most people rest for as long as possible during Ramadan, in large part because during fasting, one’s blood-sugar level is near zero! Unfortunately for the average college student (or professor), classes are not optional, so frequently sitting through class becomes an exercise in self-torture, especially if a class is right before the end of the fast. Not surprisingly people become a little more high-strung during Ramadan, and sometimes tempers can be on the short side.
However, this is all made up when it comes to the time for ftour. A traditional Moroccan ftour usually resembles something like this: the first food to traditionally break the fast is the date. Usually after eating one or two dates (the first one I ate at the first ftour was possibly the sweetest thing I’ve ever eaten!), the next thing to be consumed is a bowl of harira, which is a tomato-based soup with chickpeas, pasta, cilantro, and (occasionally) meat. Other items include milawi, or a grilled flatbread, shebekia, which are honey-covered pastries, and various juices, milk, and water.
The process of eating continues long into the night, until right before the beginning of the fast. At this point, most people are quite tired, so to no one’s surprise most people sleep as late as possible the next morning. Then the whole fasting process begins once again!
Well, that about sums up a brief explanation of Ramadan here in Morocco. Once again, I love to get feedback on the column, so feel free to send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll try to address it in future columns!
Signing off from Ifrane,