Tonight wraps up the end of Ramadan. In Islam this month is a time for fasting as well as reflection on faith, family and the world. For a traveler who is not Muslim, Ramadan offers an interesting experience both emotionally and physically. Muslims who are practicing fasting during Ramadan do not eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset. There are of course special rules for those who are ill, pregnant or have some other specific medical need. All in all, it is expected that all will participate in the fast. In fact, it is one of the five pillars of the faith.
During Ramadan business hours are different and tourists are expected (rightfully so) to not eat or drink in public. While I am not practicing the fast, it is difficult to eat as I normally would. Not only because I’m living in a hotel, but also because I want to be out and about during the day. I have had a few days when I felt totally famished by dinner time and a few days where eating little snacks in my room has helped me subsist without the three meals. When I get hungry, and I do get hungry, I often think of all the people around me who are fasting and still going about their everyday business. It really is quite impressive, especially in this heat.
Aside from fasting, Ramadan is also an important time for Muslims to give back to their community. One of the ways they do this is by providing iftar, the meal to break the fast at sundown, in the mosques. On Thursday I was lucky enough to go again to the Grand Mosque, to participate in the iftar.
Outside the mosque they have giant air conditioned tents. Think of the tents you see at outdoor wedding, but with sides (no windows) and a good air conditioning system. There is one tent for women and many tents for men. They place boxes of food out on the floor and each person comes into the tent and sits in front of a box. At the specified time, everyone can start to eat. Here is the box that I had:
The “eating time” was a bit unclear to me. But, all of the sudden everyone was eating, so I also started to eat. It was a delicious meal. I started off with dates and a little mixed veggies. Inside my box was rice and chicken with a type of vegetable curry (I’m not sure if curry is the correct word, but I hope that helps describe it). It was very tasty, and warm and filling.
It was so amazing to see so many different people in the giant tent all eating together in the spirit of faith, culture and good will. I was really enjoying myself when a bit of chaos broke out. After about ten minutes of eating, I looked up to see children running all over the empty side of the tent (where no one had claimed a dinner) picking things out of uneaten boxes. It truly reminded me of Target on Black Friday, but with children. I didn’t really know what was going on, but no one seemed bothered by it, and since the food was free and un-eaten all was well. I gave my apple and milk like drink to a woman sitting near me and the rest of my dates to one of the children.
I can speculate about why this bit of chaos started, but I won’t. What I do know, is that people who are hungry were fed, people who were seeking a cultural experience had one and people who wanted to give back were able to. And that, to me, is a great night.