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Life on the central plains can get awfully lonely at times, so feel free to drop me a line! Here's how:

D'Abravanel, Jed
B.P. 6



Monday, October 13, 2008

Ramadan In Review

My Village Mosque at Dusk.

October is possibly my favorite month, refreshing, cool, filled with rain and most importantly – located chronologically after Ramadan. Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is observed the world over by Muslims. It is marked by an increased devotion to the faith of the Prophet Mohammed, manifested by increased attendance at Mosque for the five daily prayers, abstention from all food and drink between sunrise and sunset, a prohibition against all getting funky with it between man and wife, and a return to religious orthodoxy for even the most non-practicing of Muslims. Suffice it to say that for an agnostic Jew from northern California it was a bit of a departure from business as usual.

First, the outline. What exactly is Ramadan? Well as I said above it is the holiest month of the Islamic Calendar, but the Islamic Calendar does not correspond to the Gregorian Calendar and so the exact dates of Ramadan are ever changing from year to year based on a lunar cycle. So while this year Ramadan corresponded roughly with the month of September, starting on September 2nd, next year it will begin 10 to 11 days earlier (in the deep heat of august). Does this Lunar Calendar mean that across the Islamic world Ramadan begins at the same time? Of course not, that would be far too simple, rather every country determines when it starts based on their own practices – in Morocco the Ministry of Islamic Affairs determines when Ramadan begins based on the sighting of the new moon. While crazy Libya, started two days before everyone else in the Islamic world (the people in my village blame crazy Quaddafi and his little green book) – and Saudi Arabia started on September 1st. So while everyone in the Islamic world observes Ramadan – not everyone observes it at exactly the same time or for exactly the same length of time. Though in general Ramadan is observed for one Lunar month, 29 or 30 days, depending.

Now for what’s involved. Straight off – a lot of prayer; If normally observant Muslims are expected to pray five times a day, during Ramadan nearly everyone becomes an observant Muslim. But not just observant, but publicly observant as well, the Koran permits prayer in the home and does not discriminate against it; but during Ramadan regular attendance at the village Mosque literally goes through the roof as most every man who has or is currently passing through puberty attends Mosque for every prayer. This increase in outward piety increases throughout the month as the Laylat-el-qadre or “Night of Power”, approaches.

“The Night of Power” is the night on which the Koran is said to have been revealed – through the Archangel Gabriel, to the Prophet. The exact date of when this occurred has been lost to everyone but the Prophet – as he was the only one there – and so it is celebrated on different odd numbered nights within the last ten nights of Ramadan throughout the Islamic world. In Morocco it is celebrated on the 27th night. The “Night of Power”, at least in my village, is marked by the reading of the Koran, in its entirety by the Fiqh or Imam between sunset and sunrise, with the entire male population present in the village Mosque. The reading of the Koran is interrupted only for intermittent breaks of Couscous, haunches of meat and Mint Tea. I did not observe the “Night of Power” prayers myself, as while half my village said it would be fine –the other half was not as encouraging and as a foreigner, a new comer and most importantly not a Muslim, I did not feel comfortable placing myself in that environment. So instead I stayed the night at my host families and joined my host mother Tata, and host sister Fatima in watching the King and 104,999 others pray in The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, second only to that of Mecca in size and capacity, as broadcast over the state channel 2M. I was very tired the following day.

But then I was tired for most of the month, because a month of fasting is, if nothing else, exhausting. Fasting in this context might not be the type of cleansing fast that hippy dippy California types are necessarily familiar with. To start with from the first call to prayer until l-fdur, typically from around 5am until 7 pm, no food, water, chap stick or medicine is allowed to pass through your lips and into your body - a command that even smokers and heroin addicts adhere to. When the fast ends at sunset though, it ends with a feast - the closest thing in America that I can compare breaking fast to is thirty days of thanksgiving. Thirty wonderful days. Because if the Thanksgiving feast is my favorite part of the American Holiday experience then breaking fast during Ramadan is my favorite Moroccan.

The meal is typically composed of dates, sweet breads, regular bread, fat bread (a stuffed bread), eggs, often flan, a semi-fermented yogurt drink, coffee, tea, fruit juice and a smoothie. Keep in mind that after all of this comes the best part: Harira - a soup developed over hundreds of years to keep you as fit, energetic, and well hydrated as is possible during the hard, hot days of sleep and prayer that so often compose Ramadan. But the nights, the nights even in small villages like mine, especially in larger cities take on a carnival atmosphere as people promenade the street late into the night, visiting friends and accomplishing all the work that they didn't do during the day as they hibernated in their homes.

My Host Families Ramadan Spread