A child prepares food for the Iftar (evening meal) for the breaking of the Ramadan fast in Karachi, Pakistan
This week’s Current brings to you an interview between Euphrates intern Natasha Turak and four individuals celebrating Ramadan around the world. Natasha asked them to share how they celebrate, their favorite foods, and the spiritual import of the holiday. Read on for an informative and and mouth-watering Q&A about Ramadan!
Ramadan, which began July 20th this year and will end August 19th, is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar. Right now, 1.5 billion people around the world are fasting and praying in celebration, observing one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The days and nights are filled with prayers and family gatherings, and when the sun goes down, the feasting begins. The month is based on the Islamic Lunar calendar, so it happens at a different time every year.
Ramadan is celebrated all over the world, from countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East to households in Europe, the U.S. and beyond. Fasting sounds really challenging, but it seems that there are even health benefits of Ramadan in addition to the spiritual ones! I decided to learn more about Ramadan by interviewing some Muslim friends from different parts of the world—Sri Lanka, the West Bank, the U.S., and Egypt. Here is what I discovered!
What is Ramadan?
“Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar where Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, and intimate relations from sunrise to sunset. In this month, Muslims are not only expected to abstain from food and drink, but from gossiping and bad habits in general. It is the month where you solely dedicate your time to God. Fasting is supposed to teach you self-control, self-discipline, and empathy with those that are less fortunate. We are also encouraged to do extra good deeds and give a lot of charity during this month.” Tasnim, Colombo, Sri Lanka
What kinds of food do you eat when the fast is broken, and what are your favorites?
Generally, the fast is broken with dates and water, followed by a big meal. “My favorite would have to be deep fried stuffed chillies, which are capsicum chillies stuffed with a meat mixture, which is then battered and fried.” Mmm! Tasnim, Colombo, Sri Lanka
“In the West Bank, we mostly eat Arab food such as Maklooba, which means ‘upside down’. It is rice with vegetables such as eggplant, carrots, potatoes and chicken cooked in a pot and then served upside down. My favorite is Ouzzy, which is rice cooked with carrots and peas and has chicken on top.” Amal, Ramallah, West Bank
“In Ramadan, we eat usually two times, ‘Iftar’ and ‘Sohour’. Iftar is the main meal, right after sunset. Usually we have many juices like tamarind, hibiscus, or the apricot-based Ammar Eldeen, and we have lentil, chicken, or tomato soup. Then we have rice with nuts and raisins, vine leaves with rice, chicken, meat, and salad. Afterwards we have deserts like konafa, basboosa, baklawa, balah elsham, and attayef. My favorite is konafa with cream. And the second meal is Sohour, where we have beans, eggs, falafel, bread, cheese, and usually finish with yogurt to digest all this food.” Mahmoud, Cairo, Egypt
What is your favorite thing about Ramadan?
“My favorite thing about Ramadan is going to ‘Taraweeh’ prayers, held during Ramadan every night after breaking fast. Every night I walk with my grandfather to the Mosque. Although Sri Lanka is not a Muslim country, it feels so good to see all the Muslims in the area close their shops and walk to the Mosque with you; it amazes me at how much effort people put into making the best out of Ramadan.” Tasnim, Colombo, Sri Lanka
“My favorite thing about Ramadan is how much closer people come together. A lot of families here are really big and it is hard to make time to see one another because everyone is working. But during Ramadan, everyone comes together to share meals and enjoy each other’s company.” Amal, Ramallah, West Bank
“Ramadan is my favorite thing in the whole year. Everything tastes better, I can’t say just one favorite thing about Ramadan. I love the whole month, everything about it.” Zeyad, Alexandria, Egypt
Does the behavior of the people in your community change during Ramadan?
“The behavior in our community during Ramadan is probably the best and kindest behavior you would see from everyone all year! People focus more on religion rather than worldly things. Muslims are encouraged to carry on this behavior for the rest of their lives, rather than just keep it for one month.” Tasnim, Colombo, Sri Lanka
“More people go to the mosque for prayers, even those starting at 4 am! Everyone spends the days inside and goes out at night. I live next to the only soccer stadium in the West Bank, the door into the back entrance of the stadium is the door leading to our house. After everyone has eaten and gone to pray taraweeh, the soccer games start. This is usually around 10 pm, and the games and cheering and laughter go on until midnight.” Amal, Ramallah, West Bank
“People often put food in the street for poor people and even sit with them and share food, others wait in the street and give juices to the people passing by. Families work together, and the mothers cook and prepare food while the fathers work and help the children pray and read. There are lights and colors everywhere, it is a joyful month.” Zeyad, Alexandria, Egypt
“Everyone in the community becomes more loving and warm, each willing to help the other for anything they possibly can. The aura in Ramadan is much kinder, more patient and absolutely harmonious.” Aisha, Maryland, USA
What does Ramadan mean to you?
“Ramadan is an opportunity; the opportunity to change yourself for the better, instill new habits and get rid of old ones. It’s the time where anything and everything can be done to make yourself feel closer to God.” Aisha, Maryland, USA
“Ramadan is like a wake up call to me. It’s a wake up call from my everyday life of work, school, and friends that I need to refocus my attention to God and my family. Even though I get very hungry during Ramadan, the emptiness I feel in my stomach is no match to the wholeness my heart feels after a day filled with the Qur’an, prayer and my family.” Amal, Ramallah, West Bank
Is it hard to fast?
“Yes, the first few days are really hard, filled with headaches and lots of thirst more than hunger—but once you think of those suffering all around the world, with nothing to even break fast with, you feel okay. Also, as the weeks go by it gets easier, there’s something about our faith that gives us strength and keeps us going.” Tasnim, Colombo, Sri Lanka
“When Ramadan happens during the summer, fasting can be very difficult. But some governments, like Egypt’s, facilitate this by applying summer time change so that sunset is earlier!” Mahmoud, Cairo, Egypt
What is it like celebrating Ramadan in the U.S., and how is it different from celebrating in a Muslim country?
“Celebrating Ramadan in America is great, but not quite like celebrating it in a Muslim country. There are mosques, facilities where we go to pray, but it’s just not the same, you don’t feel as much ‘at home’. In America, of course, you cannot voice the call to prayer on a loudspeaker outside the mosque, as they do in other countries. Then there is the hostility towards Muslims that has been on the rise lately, making you feel like you can’t be as comfortable in your own country, so it’s even harder during the holy month. Islam doesn’t get as many privileges as other religions do due to the fact that it is a religion very misunderstood.” Aisha, Maryland, USA
“Ramadan in the U.S. is so different [Mahmoud celebrated his first American Ramadan this year in San Francisco], I don’t feel as much spirit as there are far fewer Muslims. A few of my Muslim and Arab friends usually gather and eat together. However, it’s a great opportunity to explain Ramadan and Islam to other people and they find it so exciting, some of my non-Muslim friends even tried fasting just to see how it goes!” Mahmoud, Cairo, Egypt
So there you have it, an insider perspective on something that applies to one in five human beings on the planet! Check out some pictures of Ramadan round the world here and even more here. I don’t know about you, but I am definitely excited to try out some of those recipes!
To all who are celebrating out there, Happy Ramadan!
This Weekly Current was written by Natasha Turak. Each week you can look forward to finding relevant, refreshing quick-reads in your inbox that inform you about current events, inspire you with stories of bridge-builders, or offer up tips and tidbits we think are worth a mention!
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