Monday, August 6, 2012

Ramadan Kareem

It’s Ramadan, the most hungriest time of the year! (Apologies for that.) So, you ask, what is Ramadan? The holy month of Ramadan, which started on July 21st (in Morocco), commemorates the month when the Qu'ran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. During Ramadan, all healthy adult Muslims abstain from food, water and sex from the Fajr (morning call to prayer, about an hour before sunrise) to the Maghrib (fourth call to prayer, just after sunset). Today, that means fasting from 4:12 AM to 7:26 PM, not that I’m counting the minutes or anything. That’s a little over fifteen hours, in the desert, which is rough. Children, the sick, pregnant women and travelers are exempt from fasting, although many travelers continue to fast, which can lead to some painful train rides, let me tell you. Fasting for Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, and in Morocco, it’s the most important.

People have been telling me about Ramadan since I got back from Spain in June. No one was pressuring me to fast (except my host mother, who informed me I would be fasting all month, but I'm secure enough in that relationship to know that I could eat as much as I like during the day and still have a standing invitation to dinner every day of the week), but people wanted to make sure I knew that Ramadan was coming and what the rules were. And when I say everyone, I do mean everyone. The guy at my local hanut. The guy at the other hanut where I buy bulk goods. The man who sells me tomatoes at souq. My mudir and his friends guys who sit with him at the Dar Shabab. My sitemate's mudira. My host family and my neighbors and my friends and random people on the street. Hey look, it's the Italian girl*. Let's ask if she’s fasting.

People told me that Ramadan was a spiritual month and that they felt stronger and peaceful after fasting. They also told me fasting would make me thinner. Luckily, two years in Korea means I'm pretty much inured to incredible blunt comments about topics that are taboo back home. (I was looking at pants in the Marrakesh souq a few months ago and the shopkeeper took one look at me and said, "For you, big size!" before scurrying off to find a larger size. I just laughed and laughed, because hey, it's true.)

I’m fasting for Ramadan, even though I’m not Muslim. Ramadan is so important in Morocco and I wanted to experience it with my community. Religion is so important on such a basic level in Morocco, and as a non-Muslim, I usually can’t participate. Fasting for Ramadan is one of my few chances be involved, however tangentially, in that part of Moroccan culture. It’s also about respect for Moroccan culture. Everyone fasts during Ramadan. In fact, it is illegal to serve food to Muslim adults during Ramadan. Most restaurants are closed for the month of Ramadan, and the few that are open have signs posted saying they won’t serve adults Moroccans during the day. As a foreigner, I’m not required to fast, but I feel like fasting is the only respectful thing to do, especially while I’m in site.

Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to in the past two weeks has asked, “Wesh saiyma?” (are you fast) and been thrilled when I respond, “Ieyah, kansum f Ramadan.” (Yes, I’m fasting for Ramadan.) No one has doubted my answer, which I guess means I look just as fried as everyone else. Then we take a moment to commiserate about how we are ji3anna (hungry) and 3tshana (thirsty), but they always make sure to end by saying how fasting is good, and you know what? They’re right. It is good.

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