Last year was my first experience of Ramadan. I put my toes into the water, so to speak, of this holy month of fasting and prayer by joining my Moroccan neighbors for three days of complete fasting. As Tomas and I were living among a group of international travelers, I was pretty much “on my own” for those three days but even so, I felt the community support of the practicing Muslims around me. Tomas supported me from the sidelines but did not choose to join me at that time. You can read about my first experience of this Islamic tradition in these blog posts: Ramadan 1,2,3.
This year Ramadan has been entirely different for us. Being that we are living in the compound of an extended family and have numerous Moroccan friends and acquaintances, Tomas and I realized that we needed to consider carefully “if” and “how” we would take part in Ramadan. As I have stated previously, we chose to do a modified fast from 9AM until Sunset, which is close to 8PM at this time of the year.
Both Tomas and I have fasted during prior times in our lives. The longest I had ever fasted was about 72 hours, abstaining from food but drinking plenty of water. But Ramadan is a unique kind of fast – an abstinence from both food and water, along with smoking, drinking (which Muslims are not supposed to be doing anyway) and lustful and violent thoughts and actions. This abstinence is practiced from first call to prayer until fourth call to prayer. As these times fluctuate in accordance with the sun rising and setting, the hours of fasting during Ramadan also fluctuate according to the seasons of the year. Based on a lunar calendar, Ramadan begins about 11 days earlier than it did the previous year.
This year Ramadan spanned the Solstice – the longest days – and our neighbors are fasting for 17 hours each day for 30 days.
It also turned out to be the hottest days of the year – the time of the “High Heat” here in Chaouen. Temperatures have been in the mid to high 90s with ‘real feel” in the low 100s. This hot period began about a week before Ramadan and will continue until this holiday is complete on the 17th of July, when the temperature is expected to drop by 10 degrees overnight. I remarked to Tomas that it feels as though we are “in the Refiner’s fire” as described in the Bible. Very appropriate for the season and the spirit of Ramadan, I would say.
After about 10 days of feeling like wilted flowers — even with three fans going almost constantly — Tomas began to cover all the windows each morning before the sun could deliver its heat packages. As most of our extra towels and blankets feature red and purple tones, our windows took on a stained-glass quality that is quite lovely. Add to that the subdued lighting and I frequently feel as though I am living in a Catholic church. This has added another layer of contemplative ambiance to our home, as well as making our living space cooler and much more comfortable.
The other unique aspect of Ramadan fasting is that you DO eventually get to eat and drink fluids every day – between sunset and first call to prayer (at this time of year a short window of seven hours.) This results in most of our neighbors and townspeople adopting a completely different schedule – reversing day for night. It is not uncommon for many to nap through the day and be up most of the night. The children play outdoors until well after midnight. The downside of this is that I have had very little contact with my neighbors; it’s like we’re working opposite shifts.
Each night at about 1 AM a procession of men chanting and drumming parades along Ras el Ma (our street) to wake up anyone who might be sleeping – we certainly are trying to – to let them know that they only have two more hours to eat. Usually at that hour there is also at least one mosque reciting the Qu’ran. It makes for a jubilant night. The ladies in our neighborhood enjoy walking together after Ftor (breakfast at sunset) in the cool of the evening or they go to the mosque at 9:30 for last call to prayer and evening service. When they return, they frequently gather downstairs in Fatima’s house and we fall asleep (or not) to the sound of their merry voices and Nusser Allah’s shrieks and wails, depending on how over the top our little one is because of the complete reversal of his schedule.
Although we are all experiencing hunger (at times) thirst (much of the time) fatigue (lots of that) irritation and impatience (daily bouts of that too) the spirit of this month still feels much like Christmas to me. There is so much goodwill and sharing among the people. This discipline is taken on (by most of those we encounter) in the true spirit of cleansing, purifying and contemplation. This is the spirit in which Tomas and I have committed to these 30 days.
So far it has been a surprisingly beneficial experience! In another episode, I will address the blessings and gifts we have received for our “efforts.” We currently have one more week to go.
How is our Ramadan going? Mizien, Shokran, Hamdullah!
(Very well, thank you, thanks be to God!)