Monday, August 30, 2010

Ramadan Kareem

Or, Prosperous Ramadan
Ramadan is the Muslim holy month when Muslim people fast from sun-up to sun-down. This is the first Ramadan that has occurred in summer in 32 years, so it is harder on everyone. I have heard many different reasons and meanings for Ramadan, and they are all lovely. Just as in any other religion, there are people here who have stronger faith than others. Women choose to wear the veil (hijab- a head scarf) for 2 reasons. Many women are un-veiled (I work with many women who don’t wear a head scarf unless they are praying). Some because it is culturally expected, and others because they have reached that level in their religion. So people take their fasting more seriously than others. During the fast, people abstain from 5 things- water, food, sex, smoking and impure thoughts. Young children, old people, unwell people, pregnant women and women who have their period do not fast. They are supposed to make up for the fast another time- some do, some don’t (I work with a girl who owes about 2 years!) Ramadan is a time for reflection, to reflect on what you have and to be grateful that you have it. Also to think about people who don’t have food or water. This is also a time to prosper- people give money and food to the poor (it is a Muslim’s duty to give to the poor all the time) and give food to passing cars when they break their fast.

The fast is broken with a feast (iftar) at evening prayers, and then again in the morning before the sun comes up (around 3:45 am). While walking thru Islamic Cairo just before the prayer call, people were setting up their food on the streets and getting ready for iftar. As soon as the call to prayer happened, people immediately had bottles of water to their mouths and started eating and smoking. And it was so quiet- eerily quiet in a city so large. At work today, us expats found a quiet room to eat in. We are all uncomfortable to eat in front of people who are fasting, although they say it is ok. It reminds them to be spiritual…I still don’t want to watch someone else eat when I am hungry!

Ramadan lantern and decorations at an apartment
During Ramadan, the time goes back 1 hour, so sundown happens earlier! Ramadan lasts for 1 month, and finishes with huge feasts. During this month, it is very family and friend oriented. People socialise and visit a lot, and have iftar at their houses. In many ways it is similar to our Christmas with eating and spending time with family. Some houses even hang lights with their Ramadan Lanterns. The lanterns are an Egyptian tradition. In old times, the Ramadan man would come to the houses with his lantern, and he would wake up the family to eat before the sun comes up. Now, every house hangs a Ramadan lantern during Ramadan to remember old times.
Ramadan lantern in the lobby of my building
So far Ramadan has been a positive start…tune in later on this month and maybe I will be singing a different song (people get grumpy and hungry!) when stores are always shut and I get nothing fixed in my apartment!

**This is what people at work have told me and what I have read. This may or may not be completely what happens- its just my perspective!

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