Count your Blessings: Ramadan Mubarak
“Are you fasting?”
…said the guy at the post office who handed me my overstuffed care package full of guilty pleasure peanut butter, said the mul hanut (neighborhood corner store guy) who has been preparing his food supply for the influx of ramadan grocers, said the teenage girls I work with every week eagerly asking if I’d be breaking fast with them, and said my taxi driver to Marrakech as I stunned him with the fact that I look kind of Moroccan, but I’m not, but I speak Darija?
Everyone in my town for the most part knows I’m not Muslim, but I’m sure there’s a little curiosity to know if the American is going to try fasting with everyone. The decision to fast is one that every PCV makes based on their own individual preference.
I admit, before experiencing Ramadan here in Morocco I didn’t know too much about it. I knew that Muslims fasted from food, drink, and sexual activity from sunrise to sunset and there was a spiritual meaning to the month but that’s about it.
The night before Ramadan my host brother came over and like always we chat about stuff but tonight of course, Ramadan was the topic of conversation. I was totally ready to pick his brain about what Ramadan means to him and the many Muslims around the world, and I knew after learning I wanted to share it with all of you to give you a very personal meaning to what Ramadan really is.
It’s the holiest month in Islam, believed to be the time the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Fasting is one the 5 pillars of Islam that influence a Muslim’s life and everyone shall fast, excluding kids before puberty, the sick, elderly, and women on their periods. Not only do Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during the day but the fast is more than just this. It’s a fast from all things haram (forbidden) and a month to purify the soul and refocus your mind and attention to God, through self-discipline and self-sacrifice. During Ramadan you’ll see people dressed more conservatively, women who may not wear scarves will cover their hair, and a lot more people pray the five prayers in the day. The 27th night of Ramadan also called “Laylat al-Qadr” or “Night of Power” is believed to be the night that the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The blessings and acts of forgiveness during this night are stronger than 1000 months of worship and it is reported that the Prophet said: “Whoever stays up (in prayer and remembrance of Allah) on the Night of Power, fully believing (in Allah’s promise of reward) and hoping to seek reward, he shall be forgiven for his past sins.” (Bukhari & Muslim) My host family and most of my community went to the mosque and they spend the whole night praying or reciting the Quran.
racing to get a spot before taraweh prayer at Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh. The influx of people is so large they set up floor mats outside and everyone prays together.
The rhythm changes
Ramadan for me has been an interesting time to learn more about Islam and the traditions surrounding this month in Morocco. My day to day schedule has definitely shifted and I’ve noticed there is a different feeling in the air among people, more spiritual and communal.
I guess you could say my day starts at around 3-4pm. Usually I’ll head over to my host family’s house and start to help my host mom prepare ftur (the meal to break fast). The spread of food varies from fish to eggs to fresh juices to briwat to tagines but you’ll always find a small bowl of dates on the table, as the Prophet said if available, you should break your fast with dates. You’ll also find a famous Moroccan sweet called shbekia, fried dough coated and dipped in honey, and the popular tomato-based Moroccan soup called harira that has lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, and cilantro in it. Around 5 or 6pm lingerers start to wake up and emerge from their houses. The hanut has a line onto the street with kids grabbing last minute groceries for their parents, dads with their sons bringing fish from the village and local venders selling fruit and fresh bread. Around 6:30pm the drari (kids) are all out and the scents of kitchen preparation fill the air. The boys are playing their last minute soccer matches, working up the appetite I thought would already be there coming on the last hour of fasting, and everyones awaiting the adhan (call to prayer). The time of the adhan changes every day based on the sunset but usually happens around 7:30pm. The table is set and the door is open as we wait to listen for “Allah Akbar” which means the fast is now over and you can eat. As soon as you hear the prayer, its fair game…the feast begins.
neighborhood hanut I buy my necessities in
learning how to make shbekia
the ftur table
Staying up ’till 3am is normal
Ramadan TV weirdly reminds me of ABC’s 25 Days of Christmas or Superbowl commercials for a straight month. The same series play every night and now I’ve watched my fair share of corny comedy sketches which always happen to be on the TV no matter what house or town I eat ftur in. At around 9pm, it’s time to go to the mosque to pray asha (night prayer). An additional prayer called “taraweeh” is added during Ramadan where long sections of the Quran are recited. I stay back with my host mom and sister while my host brothers go to mosque and we usually watch movies or rest or start preparing dinner. In larger cities like Essaouira and Marrakesh, everyone is out in the streets at night during Ramadan…families are walking around, boys are sitting in coffee shops, girls are strolling the streets with their friends at like 1am. In my town there’s not too much to do but from what I’ve noticed the boys usually leave and I can imagine the cafes are filled, sometimes there are soccer matches, and people will try and stay busy until suhur (the final meal before the fast begins again, usually around 3 or 3:30am). I’m usually chugging water and eating until my belly is stuffed but when you hear “Allah Akbar”, the fast begins again, the fajr prayer is prayed, and then we all go to sleep. I’ve had the cool opportunity to spend most of Ramadan with my host family and I’ve totally claimed my ponj (couch) spot in the salon to sleep on when I’m too lazy to walk the 2 minutes back to my house after suhur, which is basically every night. By 4:30 or 5am everyone’s in their spots and if you’ve ever been to my house in New York it’s a playroom situation. Falling asleep together with your siblings was always something that was exciting and comfortable. This felt the same and that first night was a really special moment for me. I couldn’t help but teach them the word “sleepover” in English and fully embrace thats what we were having every night. We sleep until 11 or 12 in the afternoon and then we do it all over again.
my amazing family
A time of self-reflection and spirituality
It’s been quite an amazing month to experience Ramadan in a place where everyone is observing. There are definitely sleepy moments, I’ve barely worked but if I do teach for an hour or 2 I’m exhausted after and just want to sleep. But the moments of sharing time and food with family have been the highlight of this past month. There’s something about knowing that no one is eating or drinking for 16 hours then breaking fast together that fosters a beautiful, powerful connection when you sit down at the table together. That is one of the reasons I fasted, to experience a similar connection my community was feeling and also as many Muslims believe, to step into the shoes of the poor and the hungry and to be grateful for your blessings. Fasting is one of the 5 pillars of Islam but the practice of charity or zakat, is another. Muslims are encouraged to give a certain percent of their income or a charitable gift to someone they know in their family or community who may be poor or homeless. This gift can be given directly or distributed through the community mosques.
Without a doubt, Ramadan is an important and special time in Morocco. From what I’ve learned its a time to step out of your day to day routine and reconnect with your spirituality and your connection to God. It’s also a time to spend time gathering with family and practice self-discipline. Fasting gives the opportunity to teach endurance, strength, and patience and the chance to appreciate what you have, which is a angle I would have never considered before coming to Morocco and experiencing daily life in Ramadan first hand. Describing the feeling of Ramadan can be difficult, especially as a non-Muslim but these accounts have personal reflections of friends and family in them and the opportunity to experience these reflections in such a open, welcoming, and peaceful community of Morocco has been a blessing in itself.
Count your blessings, my friends.