The first time I started fasting in France, I was only 17 years old. It was my first experience to fast during the summer when actually the daylight time is longer than in the Middle East. I was doing an internship in Paris prior to my BA. I remember it was hard since the weather was super hot. The questions I was always asked; “Are you really fasting? Can’t you even drink some water?” Well, yes Muslims cannot eat or drink during the daylight hours in Ramadan.
My family is from Egypt and like other Muslim cultures we have always a lot of food on the table for the evening meal “Iftar” - things like rice stuffed into eggplant, peppers, onions, zucchini, or vine leaves, and samosas, etc - and it is a really nice time for getting the family together. In fact, Ramadan was always a month of joy when my grandparents bought for me and my siblings the Ramadan lantern. It has been a month of joy and something we look forward to.
Ramadan lanterns in Al-Mu'izz ledin Illah Street in Cairo (Photo Credit: Mahmoud Hraka)
Regardless of where Muslims are worldwide, fasting in Ramadan is one of the five pillars that constitute the basic norms of Islamic practice. My family would prepare the pre-fast meal or “Suhoor” after the “Taraweeh” prayers during the night and then go to sleep for one or 2 hours to wake up to eat this meal before dawn. We usually prepare things like Ful medames, a traditional bean stew made from cooked fava beans with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic, vegetables, fruits, and yogurt. This kind of food helps us to keep going through the day. Despite the high temperature during the summer in Paris where the heat can be very dry, many observant muslims do not find it difficult to fast. To be honest, one can feel disorientated the first days of Ramadan, but then when time goes by, you get used to it.
In Egyptian culture, we break the fast with dried or fresh dates, sometimes with Kamar El Din (dried apricot paste juice), Erq Sous (licorice), or Tamr Hindi (Tamarind). It depends on one’s preferences. As a family living in France, surrounded by so many North African cultures, I personally love eating the famous Moroccan Harira soup afterwards. Samosas comes next and heavier food at the end. After that, we go to the mosque to pray in congregation the “Taraweeh” prayers.
Ramadan is always marked with large gatherings in the mosque and community meals. However, the month will be completely different this year since places of worship are closed and social distancing should necessarily be taken into consideration to prevent the spreading of Coronavirus.
What is Ramadan?
The holy month of Ramadan begins according to the sighting of the crescent moon or “hilal in Arabic”. This year, Ramadan begins on the evening of the Thursday 23 April. The latter refers that Muslims will begin their first day of fasting at dawn on Friday 24 April 2020. Accordingly, the holy month of Ramadan will end on either Saturday 23 May or Sunday 24 May. However, dates may vary as there are either 29 or 30 days in a lunar month.
Why do Muslims fast?
There are Five Pillars of Islam which consist of:
The declaration of Faith or the “Shahadah” in Arabic
The five daily prayers “Salat” in Arabic
Almsgiving which is the practice of giving charity and therefore money or food to the poor. It refers to “Zakat” donation in Arabic.
Fasting or “Sawm” in Arabic.
Pilgrimage or “Hajj” in Arabic
Hence, fasting is obligatory for Muslims in Ramadan in which observant Muslims have to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking cigarettes, sexual activity from dawn to dusk. It is also crucial to refrain from talking about others behind their backs (gossiping), or swearing and using foul language. However, some people are exempt from fasting such as: children, ill people, elderly people, travellers, menstruating women, pregnant and nursing women. All the aforementioned people, except children, can make up these missed fast days later on if they can. Having said that, if they can not fast at all due to health issues or medical reasons, they can compensate these days by feeding a needy person for each missed fast day.
Ramadan does not mean to retreat from the daily routine but rather every muslim is encouraged to contiune his/her work and daily activities. It is the month of patience and endurance. In fact, Ramadan gives Muslims the opportunity to reflect and recharge spiritually. It is the month of restraining desires to understand how those who are less privileged feel. It is also a month of charity and generosity which are multiplied in it. Ramadan is when Muslims invite their relatives, neighbours, and friends to share their evening meal “Iftar”, and recite “Taraweeh” prayers in congregation. Even though some of the islamic traditions during Ramadan can vary from one country to another, the general traditions that all muslims follow during the holy month of Ramadan are as follows:
Eating and drinking just before dawn the pre-fast meal which is called Suhoor
Breaking the fast at sunset (dusk) with fresh or dried dates .
Praying “Taraweeh” and seeking God forgiveness by searching for the Night of Power or Laylat al-Qadr which falls within the last 10 nights of Ramadan. It is believed that the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to prophet Muhammad by God during this night.
At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr or the Festival of breaking the fast. They go to the mosque in the morning for the Eid prayer. They also dress in their finest clothes, give gifts to children, sometimes Eid money depending on the culture of each country. They will give money to charities and needy people too.
Written by Sara Galy is an Erasmus Student and Content Writer at Strath Union.