Monday, August 24, 2009

You Think You Know Ramadan?

So as we ALL know, Ramadan started on August 22 this year. Well, I know this, and Heather knows this, and pretty much everyone living in the Middle East knows this. But for you people in far off, unreachable lands like the U.S., guess what! Ramadan has started.

Jordan is about 90 percent Muslim, so Ramadan is, of course, a very important part of their religious devotion. However, it also seems to be a way to connect with your country and community as well. For example, even Muslims who are not usually religious will follow Ramadan rules to the letter as a way of showing solidarity with their fellow Jordanians. And even some non-Muslims, such as my roommate Nadia, will jump in on the fun.

Ramadan is not just about giving up food. It's about self-control and is a time of reflection for most Muslims. Most people wake up at about 3:30 in the morning just before the morning prayer. In fact, in some small villages and in some parts of Amman, the communities hire people to yell in the streets when it is time to get up, sort of like a fancy town crier. They eat a small breakfast, called sahur, perform the morning prayer, and go back to sleep. Work is delayed from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. They also get off work at about 2 p.m. instead of having to work all day. During daylight hours, practitioners must not eat, drink, smoke, take medicine or have sex. Actually, my friend said that men aren't even allowed to exchange greeting kisses-on-the-cheek with women during the day.

You may not drink alcohol at any time during Ramadan, thus all the bars and clubs are closed, as well as all the liquor stores. A woman may not fast if she is on her period, and if you cut yourself or are bleeding, you are not allowed to fast. You must make up this day later on during the year but before the next Ramadan. If you are pregnant, disabled or in some other way not able to fast, you can fulfill the religious requirements by donating food to feed the poor.

Once people finish with work, they apparently drive around like manics buying food and heading home, where they start cooking. Dinnertime varies every night. The first night of Ramadan, practitioners were allowed to begin eating/drinking/smoking at 7:18 p.m. Last night it was 7:10 p.m. It will be slightly earlier each night in Ramadan as the sun begins setting earlier. The time is recorded each day in the newspapers. At sunset, the families usually get together and eat iftar, the meal breaking the fast.

Many Muslims set their watches and light up their cigarettes with a minute to go, ready to take their first puff as the second hand hits the minute mark.

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