Ramadan 2006

September 12, 2006 – Tuesday

Preparing for Ramadan
Current mood:
Religion and Philosophy

On or about 23 September the month of Ramadan will be upon us.  At this juncture it does appear we may be starting Ramadan while still in the States but we are still hoping that we will depart beforehand.Now for those of you who are following this blog and uncertain as to what Ramadan is I will attempt to give an explanation in (very) basic layman’s terms as well as describe typical Ramadan preparations that Abdullan and I follow.Ramadan is the holy month for Muslims.  During the month of Ramadan muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for 30 days.  A muslim should not eat or drink during the daily fasting hours.  However of course if a muslim is diabetic, nursing a baby, or woman having her monthly period, or one has health issues which prevent them from being able to fast, then that individual is exempt from fasting.  Fasting is not only supposed to cleanse the body but also bring one closer to God and a feeling of spiritual well-being.  While fasting Muslims are supposed to feel empathy for those who are poor and have gone hungry.  It is a time of reflection, praying and taking stock of ones life.  At the end of the 30 day fasting period there is then a period of celebration — Eid al Fitr.  The Eid celebrations typically last for about a three day period.  In some ways Eid al Fitr can be compared to that of Christians celebrating Christmas.  During Eid al Fitr gifts are exchanged, special meals are prepared and a feeling of festivity and celebrations prevails.If one knows a muslim family perhaps during Ramadan they may be invited to participate in an iftar dinner.  Iftar is when the daily fast is broken at sunset. Iftar dinners may vary from country to country and family to family.  I’ll describe the way that Abdullah and I traditionally have our iftar.  We start by breaking our fast with traditional arab coffee and dates.  We follow the Saudi tradition when breaking our fast by placing a blanket and cushions down on the floor and sitting on the floor.    Because one has fasted for the entire day food and drink should be consumed gradually.  After having just enough coffee and dates to take the cutting edge off of ones hunger and thirst, then we would break for the iftar prayer.After the prayer (which usually takes no longer than 5 minutes) we would slowly begin the rest of the meal starting with traditional appetizers of samosas (either a meat, cheese or vegetable filled snack).  From the samosas we segue to salad and a light soup.  In our case we typically have a different soup each night which is always made and served fresh.  We take our time eating slowly and allowing the food to digest.  Abdullah and I will typically prepare the main course together which will consist of a meat dish and one or two different types of vegetables and bread.  When we’ve completed the main course, I’ll do the dishes while Abdullah starts the water for tea.  Before taking our tea we will say the evening prayer (which usually lasts about 6-8 minutes).  After prayer we’ll enjoy a cup of tea and then have a dessert with even more tea.  Of course the tea is served Saudi style in a tall and very thin narrow glass which is no more than 3 inches high.  We serve the tea light and pre-sweetened with sugar.  Sometimes it is typically to add some fresh mint to the tea as well.The entire iftar dinner from start to finish can last up to 4 hours.  We usually enjoy the special Ramadan programs on arab tv while eating our dinner.Many muslim families enjoy visiting with each other and sharing iftar dinners together.  Abdullah and I have usually had quiet and private iftars but that’s likely to change once we are in Saudi Arabia.While celebrating Ramadan here in the States our lifestyle is very quiet and sedate.  During Ramadan there is no drinking and if one smokes, they usually refrain from smoking during Ramadan as well.  However in Saudi Arabia (and elsewhere in the muslim world) it is not unusual to find that during Ramadan people turn their nights into days and days into nights.  They will stay up through most of the night starting shortly before iftar and not go to sleep until just before the sun is rising in the sky.  As a result of these habits, even many of the shops in the Muslim world change their hours during Ramadan.Abdullah and I feel that these reverse habits take away from the true meaning and spirit of Ramadan so we stick to our regular routines of getting up and working and doing our typical daily activities (with the exception of eating or drinking).  We are aware that many individuals tend to gain more weight during Ramadan.  Ironically we’ve been fortunate and actually find that we lose weight during the period.  I attribute that to our routine and being careful of what and how we eat when we break our fast.Now Eid…as I mentioned at the end of Ramadan there are joyous celebrations.  Of course Eid will start with special Eid prayers.  Entire families will go to the mosques or islamic centers together to celebrate.  After the special prayers then there is much visiting among family and friends.  Gifts and special foods are exchanged along with the Ramadan greeting of “Eid Mubarak or Ramadan Mubarak.”  Everyone, men, women and children alike will be dressed in new clothes as part of the festive celebrations.  Many homes and businesses will be adorned with white and green lights brighly lit similar to how places are decorated in the Christian world for Christmas.The month of Ramadan rotates each year.  For example while Ramadan starts this year on or about 23 September 2006, in 2007 it will begin during the month of August.If you know a Muslim, it is a very nice gesture to send them an “Eid” card at the end of Ramadan in the same way that Christians send out Christmas cards.  If you know Muslims in the United States or elsewhere in the Western world it is polite to respect their need to fast during the month of Ramadan.  Try to be sensitive and if possible do not eat or drink around them while they are fasting.  The majority of muslims will be very polite and never say anything if someone is eating or drinking beside them as they will consider that to be a test of their strength.Personally I’ve found the first week of fasting to be the toughest as the body goes through the adjustment period of expecting to take in food and water at intervals during the day.  After the first week the fasting does not bother me.  Of course I am more than ready to break my fast by iftar but fasting itself is easily bearable.  Naturally while fasting muslims do not have as much energy and are quieter.A muslim friend told me that Ramadan usually goes by very quickly for her…the first week she spends planning and preparing special dishes in advance.  The second and third weeks she spends time shopping and getting her special outfits made for upcoming Eid celebrations.  The third and fourth weeks she spends the time getting her hair done, receiving her outfits and buying Eid gifts for family and friends.  I thought I’d include her insights to share another perspective of how an arab muslim views at least part of Ramadan.

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4 Responses

  1. nice write up


  2. Thank you Tvsrinivas!

  3. […] Ramadan will culminate with a celebration known as Eid al Fitr.  Children in Saudi Arabia look forward to this occasion just as much as children in other places look forward to Christmas.  This post is more oriented for those who are in the Kingdom during Eid al Fitr but may not necessarily be a muslim yet have perhaps been invited to a muslim’s home during the Eid celebrations. […]

  4. […] about Ramadan over the years.  In fact, I arrived in Saudi Arabia in the midst of Ramadan back in 2006 and experienced what it was like to fast while traveling.  Ramadan does allow an exemption from […]

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