Now that Ramadan (the Muslim holy month) is over, I thought I’d share my experience and why I kinda fasted. Briefly, Ramadan the month of fasting from sunrise to sunset (more about Ramadan at the end of this post). I decided I wanted to fast as a way to understand more about what my community members were going through. Everyone asked me if I was fasting and when I said yes they were surprised and excited that I was. No one tried to convert me to Islam and I appreciate that they appreciated I was being a part of the community. I enjoyed the lftur (breaking of fast) with my family and others in the community. Things went pretty well the first two weeks. Then I got sick; had some female issues; and the heat soared to around 105 degrees every day. At this point I was drinking water during the day just to try to stay healthy.
How My Day Was Structured
I’ll start with just before leaving to go to lftur, I typically rinsed off all the sweat that accumulated through the day, drank 20 oz of water and headed out to someone’s house about 7:00 pm. Most people were utilizing the coolness of their courtyards or roofs for the evening’s festivities. Tables were usually already set up with some of the food displayed. The call to prayer that indicates fasting is over would sound around 7:30 – 7:40 pm and everyone would immediately grab a date and say ‘bismillah’ (In the name of God – said when you begin an activity such as eating, drinking, working, studying and traveling). Water was gulped down and then bowls of harira (traditional Moroccan soup) distributed. Yes, even in 100-degree weather, hot soup was eaten. At this point, everyone would take turns praying. And then the juice came out – mostly carrot or beet juice and it was all delicious. About an hour later we would have a hard-boiled egg, chebekia, and sfouf, as well as some type of bread and Moroccan mint tea. Chebekia and sfouf are typically served only during Ramadan and other special occasions. Chebekia is a sesame cookie folded into a flower shape, fried and coated with honey and it is addicting. Sfouf is a unique Moroccan sweet made from toasted sesames, fried almonds and flour that has been browned in the oven.
At about 9:00 pm the final call to prayer happened and the men would head out to the mosque (a few women in my community would also attend at this time). Now it was just the women left in the house and we would use this opportunity to nap or rest for about an hour. Around 10:30 pm fruit would be brought out (mostly watermelon since we grow it in our region) and I would head to my house around 11:00 pm. Occasionally, someone would serve couscous and I would eat that before heading out. Moroccan families typically eat a lunch type meal around 2:30 or 3:00 am.
Once at home I tried to stay awake until around 4:00 am, drinking more water, doing yoga, watching movies and reading. There was a group of guys who played soccer in front of my house around 1:00 am. I would eat something light around 3:00 am (scrambled eggs, yogurt, fresh veggies). I would wake up around 11:00 am and try not to move too much or even think too much cause it was way too hot. I listened to podcasts, played solitaire on my phone and traced the design in my ceilings. Once a week I did my laundry and 1-2 times a week I’d walk up to the 7anut (small store) to get eggs and yogurt. I would do this around 5:30 because everything is closed during the day due to the heat. Around 4:00 you would start smelling food being cooked to prepare for the nights feasting. And then it would all start over again.
Eid al-fitr is the festival that breaks the fast and marks the end of Ramadan. The last night of Ramadan I stayed the overnight at my family’s house. My host mom did henna on my hands. The henna process in the south is different than the north. In the north, they pipe on designs by hand. In the south, stencils are used with huge chunks of the henna and your finger tips are completely covered as well. They made up a sleeping palate on the roof for me. I think I went to sleep around 1:00 am – it was hard to sleep that early since I’d been staying up late. At 6:15 am my host sister woke me up for breakfast, everyone cleaned up, put out fresh mats, rugs and pillows, put on new clothes and started visiting and receiving visitors. This was a really cool time with streams of people coming through wishing everyone Eid Mubarak Said and generally being happy that Ramadan was at an end. Mid-morning, we had a snack and then lunch around 2:00 pm. I headed to my house at that point being completely exhausted and happy that I had survived my first Ramadan.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the night month of the Islamic year. There are several features to Ramadan, the most important and most visible is complete abstinence from food, drink, sex and smoking from sunrise to sunset. Muslims typically start fasting once they reach puberty, although some families will encourage their kids to start earlier (usually every few days during the month).
The idea of fasting is to bring Muslims closer to God and to remind them of the suffering endured by the less fortunate. In addition, many Muslims give zakat, or donate money, to charities and often feed the hungry and poor. Overall, it’s an exercise of self-restraint and charity. There are specific groups of people who are exempt from fasting: pregnant women, menstruating women, people traveling, and those who are sick. These people must make up their missed days at a later time.