I had the opportunity of experiencing the Islamic Holy Month of Ramadan while abroad in Jordan. During this month practicing Muslims will fast from 4 a.m. to roughly 8 p.m. Fasting from food, water, smoking, etc. Nothing is supposed to enter your mouth if one is fasting. This means eating, drinking, and smoking in public is illegal. Even Christians or others that aren’t fasting don’t eat or drink in eye sight of Muslims as a sign of respect. During the day most places and stores are closed down. All the cool little joints around campus where we would eat lunch were no longer opened. Rainbow street was like a ghost town. But once the sun went down everything was open and lively. The last meal people can eat is called al-suhoor around 3 in morning so most places are open that late. People are up partying with friends and mainly family till 4 a.m. It is so hot during the day and most places are closed that many people sleep during the day. The call to prayer around 7:45 p.m. breaks the fast in a meal called al-iftaar. I never got a chance to attend my peer tutors’ family’s iftaar, but my program did go to a restaurant/tent iftaar. Arab food is delicious! There is mixed grilled meats like kebobs – chicken, lamb, beef- hummus, pickled veggies, foul, and yummy sweets like Kunafa.
These are some of the traditions of Ramadan but these practices are based on teachings in the Qur’an. Surah II (The Cow): 183-185 states:
“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may learn self-restraint…So every one of you who is present (at his home) during the month (Ramadan) should spend it in fasting, but if any is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period should be made up by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; he does not want to put you to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful”
Ramadan starts depending on the lunar calendar and then people fast as it is requested in the Qur’an. This “self-restraint,” known as fasting, is supposed to make you empathize what it is like to be poor and starving. During Ramadan you are supposed to pray, read the Qur’an several times, and give to charity or the poor in your neighborhood. When Ramadan first started many of my fellow classmates and I tried to fast. That only lasted a few days though. The first day the people who were fasting got mad at others who were eating in front of them or would try to make the non-fasting people feel bad for not fasting. [People get a lot more irritable when they fast all day I’ve found.] The non-fasting people’s argument was that they weren’t Muslim so why should they fast? One boy on the trip had the best response possible, “It’s not whether you’re Muslim or not. It’s about empathizing with the poor because poverty and starvation are a universal issue… so stop eating that apple in my face!” So eloquent.
Unfortunately my program ended before Ramadan will end. After Ramadan there are celebrations called “eid.” Basically lots of parties and food and tons of weddings. At times Ramadan was frustrating (especially when the only place open for lunch was McDonald’s), but I’m glad I got to experience something so different from my own culture and grow outside my comfort zone.