The Other Side of Ramadan

Today is the first day of Ramadan, and probably a rare occasion where most — if not all — Muslim countries miraculously agreed that it would be on the 1st of August (correct me if I am wrong), so let’s hope it ends on the same date as well. At least for the first time ever, I would not have to hear sarcastic comments from a Westerner fresh off the boat regarding the whole moon calculation thing.

Indian Muslim vendor separates the seeds of a pomegranate.
An Indian Muslim vendor separates the seeds of a pomegranate at a roadside stall in preparation for Muslims breaking their fast at sundown in Mumbai, India on August 19, 2010. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

There are plenty of wonderful blog posts on Ramadan, including this one from last year by Mich and an updated version for this year here. Practically any news outlet is now talking about Ramadan, in any way or another, and marketing it as a product.

This is my concern.

Everywhere you will read something along the lines of “Ramadan is a time of reflection” and “it is a time of prayers, feeling for the poor, meditation, and sharing” among other things. Then in the next line you would find ill-crafted text that goes “Join us at our luxurious and exclusive Ramadan tent with open buffet for only AED 400 per person”. Then a little asterisk leads you to the fine print which mentions that your AED 400 does not include your shisha and the 15% tax.

Right.

In case you are interested, this is an image of what feeding the poor is like, just in case the exclusive tent does not have charity envelopes for you to donate in:

A child in Kabul, Afghanistan
A child sits with a plate of food that was distributed as part of the holy month of Ramadan, at a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010. (AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi)

Here’s a list of things I do not like about how Ramadan is being practised these days (generally as well as locally):

- Marketing products you hardly ever needed with plasters boasting a Ramadan discount or something along the lines of “in the spirit of Ramadan”.

- The endless barrage of TV soaps and shows, most of which are pointless and have nothing to do with the “Ramadan spirit” or “time of reflection and meditation”. Unless you’re a mosquito that can’t avoid anything glowing, that’s hardly meditation.

- Speaking of glowing, what’s with the jewellery industry crafting gold and diamond necklaces specifically for Ramadan? Is it a status symbol that I wear a ridiculously priced (and usually terribly designed) piece of jewellery that shows my religious support?

- People storming markets and grocery stores as though they have heard that there is no more oil in the world to transport anything further and what you have is all what you would eat till you die from starvation. People should be eating less during Ramadan — you’re shaving off more than half of the day fasting — yet somehow gluttony has become synonymous with Ramadan.

- Ill-tempered people. Okay I understand you have not had your coffee and you have not had your cigarette. That’s the point of fasting: testing your temper and tolerance. Fasting is not an excuse for you to be bad tempered. It is a motive for you to control yourself. I can understand some random bursts here and there — we are human, after all — but to still be a crazed lunatic as Ramadan comes to a close means you have missed the point.

- Speaking of lunatics: people driving. I do not need to elaborate.

- What pisses me off the most: Non-fasting people should not eat and/or drink in front or close to those who fast “to protect their feelings”. I appreciate your concern but Muslims should toughen up and stop victimising themselves with fasting excuses. Again, it’s testing your temptation. If you’re not fasting, you should be able to eat and drink as you please. If you don’t want to out of respect, that’s your choice, but having a law that can put you in jail because of eating and drinking in public is uncalled for. In malls, you see food outlets closed with very few open and barricaded to hide those who are eating. Seriously? My friends in Lebanon and Syria thankfully report otherwise.

I can go on and on but that would bore you. So if you have any other gripes at how people practise Ramadan, please mention it in the comments.

Noura’s Eid Post

I want to dedicate this post to Noura. At first I did not want to write “yet another Eid post”, but we all love and support Noura and let’s face it, long distance sucks! So below is a long and detailed account of everything I ate during my stay in Damascus.

dec-2008-467 

I went to Damascus with really one thing in mind: to eat. I missed food. I didn’t care wether or not the food was healthy. It is home made food, with love from my grandma and mom. Except for shawerma of course, but it’s shawermaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

My grandma 7ayati spends most of the day cooking one meal. She goes into the kitchen at around 10 AM and we don’t get to it till 4:30 PM. But trust me when I say it’s the best dish you’d eat in your life! So for the first day I was treated to “shei5 el me7shi” (شيخ المحشي) which I was told was called “ma5shi” (مخشي) by Palestinians (correct me if I am wrong). For dinner we had whatever was in the house – cheese, eggs, shankleesh, and whatever smells weird and has been in the cupboard since last year.

The next day we were invited for breakfast at mom’s friend’s house. Too bad I was fasting because I missed out on “fatteh”. If you know me, this is without a doubt the most sacred meal to me. So not eating fatteh would hopefully be accepted as a sacrifice. But of course, if it were only fatteh. No no. They had to have everything that makes you fart for ages – fool mdammas, fool blaban, makdoos, some weird thing I tried to avoid and could swear was moving, and of course tabbouleh, fattoush o debes and that horrible creation called mtabbal.

dec-2008-262

But I didn’t eat any of that. I busied myself by taking photos of the food.

Then I told mom to replicate that breakfast for iftar. I couldn’t say which tasted better since I didn’t have a reference, but eating fatteh (which I only eat in Damascus) made me a very happy man.

The next day my dad decided we would eat breakfast outside, much to my resentment. So that meal was totally forgettable and I do not wish to discuss it further. As an apology, my dad took me and sis to the Old City, where I usually spend my time in summers anyway.

dec-2008-368

I love the Old City. It’s simply a brilliant spot of land. You could literally hear the walls and cobblestones talking to you. Though it was a bit quiet with most stores closed for Eid, بياعين الفستق remained open and I was obliged to take samples until I decided on the best, and I let my sister handle the price negotiations. No one says no to nice sweet girls, and ياما تحت السواهي دواهي (if this is the last post you read from me, I love you all).

At night we walked arround the Qassa3 area, one of the most beautiful spots in Damascus and a festive place. As a Christian community, everyone decorates their homes – interior and exterior – with a wonderful display of lights to celebrate Christmas and New Year. When I was there only a few were up, but I am sure by now everyone there is in FalalalalaLand.

dec-2008-533

Then I had to invite Qabbani, who was in town, for breakfast. Actually he invited himself but then I invited him after his invitations to feel that I have a word in this LOL! So he came over and he had to eat from MY fatteh el 7aywan, bas mashi bmoon. So for revenge I had mom force him to eat lots of ma3mool and weird Arabic sweets which names I cannot be bothered to remember. They all taste the same to me – mushy sugar and nuts down my esophagus.

dec-2008-539

Then came the big meal.

Kibbeh.

وما ادراك ما الكبة 

There is absolutely nothing more wonderful than have the whole family eating kibbeh next to the صوبية. And a pot of tea slowly being brewed on it and socks  hanging around so they can dry before we wear them to bed.

But it wasn’t tea, it seemed. It was ميرامية. I craved some مته right then but I’m the only one in the family with that acquired taste. So since mom doesn’t approve, it stays out. *sniffles*

I stuffed my suitcase with whatever food I could carry – roughly 6 kilos of food. I consumed half of them within a couple of days in Dubai and saved the rest for a rainy day.

dec-2008-753

The Sighting of the Moon?

Finally for once the whole Muslim world agreed that Ramadan starts September 1st (edit, Silent Reader pointed out Libya and Iran started differently).

Now I get an email stating that Eid will be “dependant on the sighting of the moon”.

My question is: WHY?!

Science has come a long way now and we can predict weather (which fall under Chaos Theory) so definitely we can predict something as systematic as the lunar cycle.

It pisses me off when for instance, Saudi Arabia says they saw the moon, so Ramadan starts, and Syria says they didn’t see anything and they delay Ramadan by one day. I thought the moon is a universal phenomena and won’t really change much if you go vertically up just a little in lattitude. If it appears in one place, it should appear pretty much everywhere in the region (poles excluded but will come to that later).

Which brings me to the point of Qadr. I am fine with not having the exact date revealed and that it is most likely 27. Now, aside from the fact that some people say “the night changes every year” *rolls eyes… I mean if the Quran was revealed on 27 then it is 27 on all Ramadans not 27 in one and 23 in another*… when we have different countries starting with different dates then which country is actually “correct” about the night (let us assume it is 27)?

A sheikh in one khutba said “but this is one of the great miracles!”. I am not going to that mosque again.

Now let’s assume I’m following the traditional way and I am living in Antarctica. I get 6 months plus worth of total darkness and a couple of months of total sunshie. Strictly speaking, then, a lunar month is 29-30 years there.

What if the moon flew off orbit or it exploded? Will Islam be doomed? Will we then resort to the scientific, calculated dates? We’re doing it for PRAYERS… I mean God forbid they said Iftar is at 6:23 and it is actually 6:24!

I can understand when 1400 years ago the sighting of the moon was the best if not only indication for the new lunar month. But now in 2008 things are different. Islam told us to embrace science, to seek it and make use of it. Why aren’t we? They’re predicting the exact timing of a prayer can’t they predict what stage the moon is in?!

Eid Mubarak :D I will be freezing in Jordan (it is 27C-31C at night here and 3C-7C at night there) starting from tomorrow LOL!

PS: You don’t need to call me a lying blaspheming infidel. Am a believer and like everyone else I just have questions and seek answers.

:thumb67079249: