Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Musings on the First Day of Ramadan 2009

Ramadan رمضان

+My first day of Ramadan began in Tuba, a small village in the South Hebron Hills. I was staying with a family that is devoutly religious, and would surely be observing Ramadan. For the majority of the evening (before fasting began), I was grilled about whether I would fast, if I have fasted before, for how long I have fasted, and about what fasting means for Muslims. The usual christian practice of fasting food, but still drinking water was decidedly unimpressive to these Muslims who go without food, water, cigarettes, and more during the daylight hours of Ramadan. I tried to explain, yes, we drink water, but sometimes we fast for 24 or 48 hours. To which the question came, “Yeah but you drink water right?”

+After telling the family that I would fast the following day, inshallah (God willing), they informed me that we would be arising at 3:30am to eat a meal (in order to fill your stomach before the sun rises). So early in the morning the mother of the family started rousing people, and we all got out of bed at our own paces. The mother had been up for some time in order to prepare bread, olive oil, cheese, and tea. We ate, to fill our stomachs; and drank, not only to quench our thirst but also to provide hydration for the coming day. As I retired to bed, the father of the family prayed and sang a passage of the Quran. Prayer and the reading of the Quran are important aspects of Ramadan. Many Muslims read the entire Quran during Ramadan.

+Waking at sunrise, I was dismayed to remember I couldn't rinse out my mouth. That dryness would stay with my for quite a while, unfortunately.

+The shepherds I went out with that morning were quick to dismiss any questions about whether they were hungry, thirsty, or in need or a smoke. The response was usually, “God will help me.” It didn't seem to be an issue of having to struggle through your body's adjustment to a completely different eating, drinking, and sleeping rhythm. The focus was on God's greatness, generosity, and ability to help them through the fasting. This makes sense if the purpose of Ramadan is to take your focus away from bodily pleasures and reorient your life towards God.

+On the flip side, there were very honest admissions from others throughout the day. Such as, “It is so hot today,” or “Ramadan is so difficult this year,” or “Oh God, help me, this is hard.”

+A common expression is رمضان كريم (ramadan kariim, meaning Ramadan is generous) to which people reply اللة اكرم (allahu akram, meaning God is more generous).

+I broke my fast because of a wicked sore throat, which I tried to remedy with throat lozenges and water. I was bummed about this because I was planning on fasting for Ramadan. We are now in the 3rd day of Ramadan and the sore throat is still lingering. I fear that once I am feeling better I won't have the drive to begin the fast again. I had my reservations about fasting because it's not my tradition and not my religion. Yet at the same time I wanted to experience this total reorientation of living patterns, in order to point one's life towards God in a more intentional way. Our friends in the village don't seem to be offended either way, whether we are fasting or are not. There is a respect that we are Christians, and Ramadan isn't our holiday. But there is also a respect for people who do decide to fast (but usually it comes with a reminder of the other things we are supposed to do more of – prayer, giving to those in need, etc.)

+Bab il-Hara, a Syrian television program that runs during Ramadan, was blaring from all the TVs. This is a very popular show that seems to be known across the Arab world, or at least across بلاد الشام Bilad ash-Sham (the region including Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan).

+Our neighbor, an 7 year-old boy, was fasting. By about 4pm he looked like the walking dead. He came to our house asking to borrow something and it looked like he might pass out after he got the request out of his mouth. After their family ate that evening, I am sure he was bouncing off the walls like usual.

+The markets in Al Khalil (Hebron) are bustling during the day. Eating is more of an event during Ramadan and markets are packed with shoppers and mosque-goers. Street vendors that sell street food are either closed or converted. Because people aren't grabbing a falafel on-the-go, they change to offer traditional Ramadan deserts, breads, or juices.

+There are theme songs on the radio for Ramadan. One of them was quite catchy with a chorus exclaiming in melodious tones, “Ramdan Kariim.” I tried to find a clip of it online to share with you, but to no avail.

Ramadan Kariim!