Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ramadan Kareem!

"Ramadan Kareem!" is the greeting of choice during the fasting month - literally meaning have a generous Ramadan. Today was the fourth day of Ramadan and everyone's schedule is turned topsey-turvey during this holy month of Islam.

Most of my Muslim friends, and some of the non-Muslims as well have been abstaining from food and water during the daylight hours after the pattern laid out by the prophet Mohammed. It is very hot here, and without water and food no one feels like doing much during the day time. It is very difficult to find an open store or resturaunt in the daytime - even the hotel cafes are closed for Ramadan (non-fasting guests can still, however, order room service.)
During Ramadan days, everything is quiet and people tend to sleep in and take naps, but during the night, the celebration begins. Iftar, the breaking of the fast, begins promptly at sundown. In the hotel, the Iftar meal is a huge buffet where all of us - Muslim and non-Muslim alike - stuff ourselves full. After Iftar people go outshopping, play sports or other games, or just talk for hours into the night. The Sohour, or pre-fast meal is served in our hotel between one and four in the morning, before sunrise at five-ish. Devout Muslims will wait until very late to eat Sohour, knowing that it will be their last chance for a meal and glass of water for the next fourteen or fifteen hours.
The hotel really does put out a good spread, and many of the staff are decked out in traditional Saudi Arabian dress which looks like it came straigh tout of the time of Alibaba or Aladdin.
Some of the international non-Muslim students have been partaking of the fast out of respect for their friends, for their own spiritual reasons, for their own sense of adventure, and maybe even because it is difficult to find good food to eat during the day time!

Whatever the reasons, this gesture of respect has suprised and encouraged many of the students who are fasting. Ramadan has been a fun time for bonding as we continue to get to know each other personally and explore one another's culture. Still, this morning person will be glad to be back on a "normal" schedule again next month when Ramadan is finished.

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