It’s Ramadan. We’re about half way through the month of Ramadan, in which most Muslims fast during daylight. Almost all Moroccans are Muslim, so almost all Moroccans are fasting. This practice is sacred, actually one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The only Muslims exempt from the fast are children, menstruating, pregnant, or nursing women, the elderly, travelers, and the ill. Children will begin to fast once they hit puberty. Many of the exempt will insist on fasting regardless in order to fulfill their spiritual needs. Often those who do miss days of fasting due to these reasons will make up those days throughout the rest of the year. Even those who meet the required amount of fasting per year will fast outside of Ramadan sporadically throughout the year as a spiritual refresher.
Though difficult, most people I have spoken to enjoy the cleansing act of fasting. They insist that it’s a healthy practice that also brings them closer to Allah. The fast represents a sacrifice to purge oneself of sin. Not only do Muslims refrain from food and drink during the day, but also from sex, smoking, and any sinful activity. Ramadan is a time to practice restraint and discipline, while dedicating more time to the study of the Quran and performance of good deeds.
So breakfast, or iftar, is the first meal eaten after sundown, around 7:30 PM where I live. And many will stay up all night to get in as many meals as possible before the sun rises around 4:30 AM. Some sleep just in the early morning, some in the afternoon. Kids still have to go to school, but, other than that, almost the entire town is shut down until after breakfast. It took me a couple of weeks of trial and error, going out at all hours of the day, to figure out when stores were open during the holiday. At the women’s center, the workout classes that I used to teach in the afternoon are now at 10:30 PM. I was conditioned not to leave my house at night because usually the streets were full of men and stares, but now the whole town is hype in the middle of the night.
I’ve gone to a couple of breakfasts. I could go to any of my friends’ homes any day without invitation if I wanted. The community of women I’m a part of are of the most generous people I’ve ever met in my life. One woman even offered me some food about twenty minutes before she could eat because she knew I wasn’t fasting that day and was so accepting of it. I declined, of course. Even my vegetable guy invited me to his house to break the fast.
The food during Ramadan changes. It’s very specific- a lot of baked goods filled with meats, noodles, and vegetables, dates, eggs, and hrira, a Moroccan tomato soup with noodles, lentils and chickpeas. The hardest change in diet for me to deal with is the lack of couscous. On Fridays during Ramadan, unlike every other Friday of the year, they do not eat couscous. I also haven’t seen a tagine all of Ramadan. The food is still delicious, but I’m definitely not dreading the next Couscous Friday.
Ramadan has been one of the most unique cultural phenomena I’ve experienced. Virtually the entire country of Morocco and the rest of the Muslim world turn their lives upside down for an entire month to devote themselves to their values. Their belief system is engrained in their culture, and their will to express their faith is inspiring.