Ramadan is the ninth of twelve months in the Muslim year. Since
it is a lunar calendar, the length of each month depends on
moon sightings. Each month begins with the new moon, which means
that each one can be 29 or 30 days long. With twelve months
of approximately 354 days, and no leap year compensation, it
means that there are eleven fewer days annually, when compared
to the reckoning on our Gregorian year. This is what accounts
for the fact that Ramadan, like all the other Muslim months
and festivals, happens about that many days earlier each year.
As a result, Muslims get to experience this and all other holidays
during different times of the year.
of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, thereby representing
one of the five points on the star you see on the flags of Muslim
thing that comes to mind when I think of Ramadan is the fasting,
and that is what would be for me the most difficult aspect of
observing it. For Muslims, however, this is not the feature
of Ramadan that comes foremost to mind. It is a time of introspection,
thinking about Allah, and one's relationships with other people,
too. As one friend told me, "You try to devote more time
to the spiritual part of you. You should be just to people.
You should think about the suffering of people. You give to
the poor. Recently, we think a lot about those people killing
other people and saying that they are Muslims. If you kill a
person you are not a Muslim. We pray for those people."
is also a unifying force among Muslims, because all people are
practicing it at the same time. It serves as a test of will,
in that other people (non-believers) do not have limitations.
But strong Muslims pride themselves on resisting the temptations
to eat, drink, smoke, and have sexual relations during daylight
hours. They believe that when you demonstrate that you can be
stronger than your physical urges, you have more good deeds
to your credit with Allah.
is also a time to be in harmony with others. There is a lot
of visiting, especially in the evenings, and asking for the
forgiveness of friends and family.
to sustain the daily fast, people wake up and complete their
morning meal before the sunrise. The month of Ramadan was being
observed during December when I was in Morocco in 2000. The
fast is, of course, easier during the winter when daylight hours
are shorter and days are cooler.
hours are shortened during Ramadan, with offices and banks opening
later in the morning and closing earlier in the afternoon. When
I first experienced this, in Morocco, I was puzzled because
I didn't know all the ramifications of this observance. Why
are the banks opened later in the day if everyone's been awake
for hours? I wanted to know. Being a morning person, once I
am awake, I'm up for the day. Then I came to find out that it
is common practice for people to go back to sleep after their
pre-dawn meal, which is what accounts for businesses getting
a later start. Children, who do not fast, are usually allowed
to continue sleeping until they normally awaken.
came here, I received sage advice from a PCV who had served
in an Islamic country: don't take vacation days during Ramadan.
Why not? With people working fewer hours and many work projects
being curtailed until the month is over, it is already a mini-vacation.
I am finding this to be true, of course.
year, which started on the first of October, is not in full
swing yet. University classes have not begun, nor have classes
at ENS, where I taught last year. But I did get a call from
my ENS contact, to the effect that they would like me to teach
the American Civilization class again. I am also waiting to
hear from ISERI, the Islamic Institute, where I will be teaching
English. Characteristically, they told me that they would be
in touch to set up the schedule, "after Ramadan."
If I had been asked to make a list of the food items I would
be least likely to find in Mauritania, I might have thought
about it for a few minutes and then eventually included matzos
on the list. Imagine my surprise, then, just this last week,
when I was shopping at my usual super marché and saw
a box of matzos - just that one box - on the shelf. It was manufactured
in France and contained neither Hebrew writing or the word "matzos"
on it. The box was labeled "pain azyme," which translates
to "unleavened bread." There is no mention of manufacture
under rabbinical supervision, as there usually is on these boxes,
but it was unmistakably matzos.
PCV Kristin got back from her home leave on Saturday, and she
came to visit me yesterday evening, bringing with her a bagful
of goodies from San Francisco. Since she was "in the neighborhood,"
she stopped at my house and picked up the supplies that friends
Susan and Andrew had gathered at my request: books, postage
stamps, notebooks, travel sleep sheet, sandals, mail, and other
odds and ends. It was wonderful to get this new infusion of
goods. My Teva sandals were falling apart and definitely on
their last kilometers.