I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy … ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
Darwish, Mahmoud. “In Jerusalem.” Translated by Fady Joudah, The Butterfly’s Burden, Copper Canyon Press, 2008.
Ramadan mubarak! Ramadan is the holiest month in the year of the Islamic calendar, and I’ve been hearing about it since I got to Jordan. Getting to experience Ramadan in a majority Muslim country has been so enriching and exciting, and I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences in this post. I’m no expert, though, so if you want to learn more about the religious or historical context for Ramadan, I’ve added links that explain more at the bottom.
What Is Ramadan?
Before I came to Jordan, I thought I understood Ramadan: a month when Muslims fast during daylight hours. With my limited understanding, I only considered the difficulty of fasting, without knowing much about the religious or cultural context.
Turns out, there’s a lot more going on during this time! The best comparison I can make to Ramadan for Christians is a combination of Lent and Christmas. Just as many Christians fast in some capacity during Lent, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, and smoking during the day in Ramadan. And just like Christmas is a time of joy, Ramadan is also a season of community, gathering, and celebration.
During Ramadan, many people’s work schedules change to make fasting easier. In Jordan, working hours will typically start around 10am and end around 3pm. And for many restaurants, the workday doesn’t really start until sunset and continues all night!
Ramadan as a Foreigner
For non-Muslims living in Jordan, it is important that we also remain flexible and adapt during this time. Part of respecting the culture is not eating or drinking in public during fasting hours. Many businesses and most restaurants and cafes are closed during the day. Finding transportation can also be difficult right before and during iftar, and it’s important to time commutes carefully because the roads get more dangerous when a bunch of hangry drivers are trying to get home to break their fast.
If all of this makes you think that Ramadan is frustrating to experience as a foreigner, think again! At nighttime, the streets are lit up and crowds of people are outside at all hours eating and socializing. It’s easy to stay up later because work and classes are also starting late, giving you plenty of time to sleep in. I’ve been calling my friends in the U.S. more during Ramadan because the time difference is easier to navigate when I can stay up late.
The best Arabic TV dramas release new seasons during Ramadan because people are watching television to take their minds off being hungry. Iftar is often a huge family gathering, where people stay up late into the night drinking tea, smoking, and talking—I’m writing this post at 11pm on a weeknight, and the large group of relatives gathered in my host family’s living room show no signs of leaving anytime soon! And don’t even get me started on Ramadan foods: qatayef (sweet stuffed pancakes), lokma (small donuts soaked in syrup), fresh apricot and tamarind juices, lentil soup, dates…
All of this combines to make Ramadan unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in the U.S., and completely unforgettable.
Suhoor: pre-fast meal eaten before sunrise
Fajr: prayer at dawn; marks the beginning of fasting
Iftar: the meal eaten after sunset to break the fast. It is common to eat iftar together with extended family and/or friends.
Adhan: the call to prayer
Ramadan mubarak: a greeting that translates to “Blessed Ramadan”
Ramadan kareem: a greeting that translates to “Generous Ramadan”
Want to learn more about Ramadan? Here are some sites I found helpful: