Friday, August 6, 2010

Ramadan Karim

On Wednesday, it seems, Ramadan will begin. We never really know until the very last minute, since it's not exactly up to us, it's up to the Moon.

I've never been in Palestine during Ramadan before, but I've had the pleasure of spending two Ramadans in Egypt. One of them was in Cairo, and Cairo is amazing in Ramadan. Amazing.

The days leading up to the first day of fasting are filled with preparations, cooking, stockpiling and the air is virtually vibrating with excitement and well wishing.

"Ramadan karim!"

"Allahu akram."

Literally: Ramadan is generous, but God is more generous.

Then Ramadan begins. The first day is difficult, they say. Exhausting without water, cigarettes or food. Long. But then it gets easier to fast because you get used to it. From where I'm standing, however, it doesn't seem to get that much easier at all. In fact, as the days creep by at a snail's pace, they just seem to get longer and hotter and people seem to get worse headaches and less patience by the hour. They talk less. Carry out their duties, but do little more than that.

In the afternoon, right before the prayer, you can hear a pin drop on the sidewalk in the middle of Cairo, if you had one to drop. Not a soul is out. And for Cairo, a city of something like 20 or 25 million souls, that is truly a strange thing.

So what's so amazing about this, you might ask yourself.

It's not the days, and it's not the breakfast (literally breaking the fast) at sundown with all its abundance.

And even though they are quite amazing in themselves, it's not even the nights that truly make Cairo amazing in Ramadan. It's true, every street is lit by multicolored lightbulbs strung up between buildings and trees, winking at people dressed up to go out to the Ramadan tents set up all over the city to smoke shisha and eat and talk. And as much as I do love the foul vendors that set up special Ramadan booths all over Cairo to provide its citizens with piping hot fava beans at night to keep them longer during the next day, it's not really that either.

It's what happens in the poor quarters. People who have been more blessed in this life line up table after table after table in long rows on the streets in the less affluent areas and invite anybody who needs a helping hand to sit down and partake of a good square meal that leave little more to ask.

I think it's this that Ramadan is all about. Reaching out to your neighbors who might be lacking what you have an abundance of, and share with them your abundance.

But, without wanting to offend anybody, I sort of don't really get the whole fasting part. I know it's supposed to remind you of what it's like for people who don't have access to all the food and water they need or want, but surely we don't need to deprive ourselves of food and water to understand that they need our help? And, honestly, there are people who need a helping hand during other months than Ramadan as well.

Which reminds me of Christmas. Somewhere along the line, the birth of Jesus was also made to remind us of the importance of being together and helping those in need. And just like some Christians (if not most that I know of, including myself who still celebrate Christmas without being an actual Christian) sort of forget about that--and about Jesus, for that matter--in the middle of all the Christmas gift buying, gingerbread baking and food preparations, I daresay some Muslims also focus on the symbolism around Ramadan and forget about the essence: they fast diligently, but then the indulge in an excess of food at night... which, I believe, is not really the best way of reminding yourself of what it's like not to have food on your table at all, day or night.

So. My point? Don't fast during Ramadan or indulge in an excess of food at night; don't buy lots of Christmas gifts and overeat Christmas food?

No, not at all.

Be nice and share all year around?

Yeah, maybe.

Either way, I'm looking forward to seeing what Ramadan is like here in Ramallah. I think very different from Cairo. Most people I have talked to don't exactly plan on fasting at all, except maybe the first day. No one in our office will observe Ramadan, which will make life much easier for me. Because even though I understand that it is actually illegal to eat or drink on the street during the fasting hours here, nobody will know what happens behind our office door.

Bookmark and Share

No comments: