I lived in the Middle East for four years and vividly remember every Ramadan season. Ramadan is the thirty days of fasting for Muslims. Many Muslims I know view it as a special time for them to be devoted to God. They fast from food, drink, and sex every day from sunrise to sunset. Nothing may pass down their throats, including their own saliva, for the entire day. Every night at sundown, there is an iftar, a meal that breaks the fast. They fast in community; then together they eat, smoke arguile (hookah), and drink tea or coffee into the wee hours of the night. There are special sweets for this period of time, as well as a special greeting: “Ramadan kareem” is how you are greeted daily, and it means “God is generous.” After the thirty days comes the holiday of Eid Al Fitr, which lasts for three days. People wear new clothes, children receive gifts, and families visit the park. Home visits to friends and family are a must.
As I sit here and reflect on the Ramadan season, I smile. I think of how the community comes together every day, starting with the man who goes around banging a drum and singing, reminding people to get up before sunrise to eat something. Ramadan requires late nights, early mornings, and many afternoon naps! My friends' children were never forced to participate but always voluntarily fasted to be a part of the community. I remember cooking with my friends for most of the day for the big feast and what a relief it was at the end of the day to break the fast. I have been to many types of iftars: some with families in their home, some where we invited the poorest of the poor to eat with us, some with workmates, and even some at restaurants (can you believe there are special iftar deals at local restaurants?). The start of every iftar was always the same: it began with watching the sunset and waiting for the sun to become level with the horizon. Once it was...prayers and then eating! First, you drink water or Pepsi (seriously, they needed the caffeine), followed by lentil soup, salad, hummus, assorted appetizers, the full sized entrée with meat and rice, dessert, tea, coffee, and jaleb (a rose water prune juice topped with almonds, a favorite of Ramadan).
What could you hate about this?
The last time I was in the Middle East for Ramadan, it was in August and September (Muslims follow the lunar calendar, so their holidays are at different times each year), still very hot and very humid. Have you ever fasted the whole day without even water when it’s above 90 degrees? It’s not impossible but is incredibly difficult. People are tired, thirsty, hot, hungry, and on rather short fuses. I witnessed many fights in the street, as well as car accidents. I even caught myself losing patience rather quickly.
I was intentional about not drinking or eating in front of anyone during the day. Not that people expected me to fast, but I didn’t want to tease them. And as meticulous as I was in trying not to offend them, one day I got reprimanded by a co-worker for wearing lipstick - apparently wearing lipstick means you are not fasting. Technically I wasn’t, but in spite of my efforts to be sensitive, I still managed to offend him.
On a practical level, since people can’t swallow their saliva…guess what happens? Yup, men are spitting everywhere. And since people can’t brush their teeth or chew gum or suck on mints, just imagine! And what did I hate most about Ramadan? My friend’s voices became so hoarse from not drinking that by the end of the day, they couldn’t speak. I always just wanted to force water down their throats.
Remember the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide this March and April! We recommend a great prayer guide 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World. You can order the guide or follow the daily videos from Prayercast.