Ramadan is being celebrated all over the Muslim world--and by Muslims everywhere. What about the mixed Saudi/non-Saudi (whether Muslim or not), or Muslim/non-Muslim couple? What about their children, and their extended families? How do they celebrate Ramadan? Does it depend on which country they are living in? Does it depend on how recently one (or more) is converted to Islam?
I thought that my comment below on Ellen’s blog “Steadily Emerging with Grace”, on her post “Ramadan for the half Muslims & the plane tickets”, might make a good starting point for discussion of these questions in relation to these themes during this month of Ramadan.
But first, a brief review of what the month is about, and some answers to common questions. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and a holy month during which Muslims focus more directly on the teachings of Islam and enacting them through increased prayer, reading of the Quran, and hadith, charity, and visiting family and friends
Most notably to outsiders, seemingly, a part of this month of increased religiosity and spirituality involves fasting. Yet Ramadan is also a time of experiencing the deprivation of the less fortunate, including the poor, and of exercising self-discipline, in terms of physical fasting but also refraining from profanity, lying, backbiting, gossiping, and other all too common negative human behaviours. In this way it serves as a fortification and a reminder of good behaviours for the 11 months to come.
During Ramadan Muslims fast from sun-up to sun-down, according to precise times calculated by Islamic institutions. The day begins before sun-up and fajr prayer, with suhoor, the pre-dawn meal before fasting, and an important one to sustain health and the will to fast. During daylight hours, Muslims take no food, liquids, or substances like tobacco, and do not engage in sex, or similar temptations.
The daily fast is broken--in families, among friends, or in community events--when the sun dips below the horizon, and on a communal signal. Dates (often 3) and water, dates and milk, or dates and laban, are traditional to break the fast. After praying maghreb, the main meal, the iftar, follows.
Iftars vary throughout the Muslim world, but often start with a special soup, then sambousa, followed by a main dish accompanied by bread, salads, and vegetables, and ending with fruit. Evenings are spent in visiting, where tea and cakes are served, watching television or movies at home together, or enjoying communal festivities organized by the municipality, region, or community group. Ramadan is a joyous as well as a reverent time.
Children are not required to fast, nor is it recommended that they do so until after puberty. Many like to fast part of the time to share the experience, and to practise for when they are required to do so.
Travelers, the ill, the elderly, and menstrual, pregnant, and postpartum women are not required to fast either. Days are to be made up later in the year by anyone temporarily prevented from fasting (neither the elderly nor the chronically ill, who are asked to feed the poor instead).
Ramadan ends after 30 days with Eid-Al-Fitr--“The Festival of Breaking the Fast”-- which lasts 3 days.
In answer to Ellen’s post invitation to readers/ commentators, “If anyone is reading this, perhaps they could add their own comments about their experiences during their first Ramadan and the challenges that they overcame while doing it”, I commented:
“My first Ramadan we (then boyfriend and I) arrived for the final few days (by his design?) of Ramadan after travelling, so fasting wasn't an issue. Since we arrived by surprise at night, we were served the leftovers from the iftar (excellent), and it was a non-issue until mid-morning the next day. Then my sisters-in-law, with my mother-in-law in the background, came to ask if I wanted to fast or not, with MUCH only if you want, it's no problem, we are preparing food for the children anyway, whatever you want, we're used to preparing and serving, etc.
Some how it came up that I was "whatever euphemism you prefer" that day (and for the next few days), and they promptly said, "Oh, don't do it then". Word travelled up to the patriarch, my grandfather-in-law, who went out and bought me a packet of special biscuits, as a sign of his acceptance. The whole incident is one of my fondest memories of interactions with my in-laws, or anyone for that matter.
I did restrict as much as possible so as not to be offensive, and ate with the children, separate from the others. I also helped prepare the iftars, which are wonderful, beginning with the dates and milk, then the special soup, and moving through the full meal. Needless to say, everyone is more animated, and in better humour as the meal progresses.
The evenings of Ramadan after iftar are also wonderful in a Muslim country, and we went out and enjoyed the activities in the downtown, with all the families, young people, fun for the children, sunflower seeds, etc.
Ah, but then we went out with our peers, and since we were not married and the boyfriend was fair game, all the men were nice to me, and the women went ON and ON about whether I was fasting, or NOT, with a great deal of smug superiority, despite my saying repeatedly, "The Quran recommends I don't", and "I would, except that it is not the right time", etc., short of referencing my "condition" directly. One more question and I probably would have, in a loud, confident statement of medical fact. Fortunately boyfriend, and future husband, was spared that bit of cross-cultural, same-gender adventure!
Eid was also wonderful, and I am always glad that my in-laws include me fully in everything but the religious part of any celebration, and make sure I have company and activities when I am not able to be included, for example, when the women visited a marabout*, I stayed at the beach with the men and boys of the family, and my mother-in-law brought me back a small gift--very thoughtful.
BTW I am an Islamophilic Daughter of the Book--NEVER under any pressure to convert.”
*A marabout in this case is the tomb of a Muslim holy man, where believers go to pray and have a spiritual experience.
What are your thoughts and experiences of Ramadan? Are you, or have you been, in a mixed couple or family? How do you/did you celebrate Ramadan? Is your experience or practice different depending on where you are living? What do you do when travelling, studying, or working abroad? If you are a non-Muslim, have you thought about fasting or fasted? What was the experience like for you?
How does Ramadan in a non-Muslim country compare to Ramadan in a Muslim country? Do festivities detract from, or enhance, the spiritual and religious meaning of Ramadan? Are Ramadan festivities different in different regions or cities of Saudi?
Enough questions! On to your comments!