For the Non-Muslim readers, unfamiliar with Ramadan, I will give a quick introduction to one of the holiest Islamic occasions. I will keep it simple and would not go into the full religious details since I do not consider myself qualified in that sense. One thing I most certainly need to emphasize, that this post is indented to give a general idea about one of the five pillars of Islam (Fasting) and not as a religious lesson. There are many blogs out there written by people far more knowledgeable about the intricacies of religion and faith. They will certainly serve better in providing more precise guidelines. The five pillars of Islam are:
1. Al-Shahada (The Testimony of Faith) which is the declaration that there is none worthy of worship except Allah (God) and that Muhammad (PBUH) is His last messenger.
2. Al-Salat (Prayer) establishing of the five daily Prayers.
3. Al-Zakat (Almsgiving) which is generally 2.5% of the total savings for a rich person working in trade or industry, and 10% or 20% of the annual produce for agriculturists. This money or produce is distributed among the poor.
4. Al-Sawm (Fasting) during the month of Ramadan.
5. Al-Hajj (The Pilgrimage to Mecca) this is done during the month of Zu al-Hijja, and is compulsory once in a lifetime for one who has the ability to do it. If the Muslim is in ill health or in debt, he or she is not required to perform Hajj.
Most Muslims around the world live, like everybody else, by the Gregorian calendar. However, all of their religious occasions use another calendar called the Hijri. This lunar calendar starts with the year Muhammad (PBUH) migrated from Mecca to Medina (Hijra = Migration). Currently we are in the year 1427 Hijri. There are 12 lunar months in the 354-day Hijri year. A lunar month is roughly 29.5 days and it is agreed that a lunar month is considered either 29 or 30 days, depending on actual observation of the moon. Be that as it may, the Hijri year makes one complete cycle every 33 solar years (being roughly 12 days shorter). This year, the 1st day of Ramadan fell on the 22nd or 23rd of September, so next year (2007) the 1st day of Ramadan will be around the 10th of September. Every lunar Islamic month has a name (Muharram, Safar, Rabi’ I, Rabi’ II, Jumada I, Jumada II, Rajab, Shaaban, Ramadan, Shawwal, Zu al-Qi’dah and Zu al-Hijja).
The Quran was revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) during the month of Ramadan thus it became the holiest month for Muslims. The fundamental ritual of worship in Ramadan is fasting (abstaining from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset). During the day, a fasting Muslim would absolutely eat and drink nothing whatsoever. In addition to culinary deprivation, a Muslim should also abstain from sex during the same hours. Bad temper, foul language and other bad human ailments should be avoided altogether day or night. Immediately when the sun sets, it is Iftar (Dinner) time. Families would gather around the table and enjoy some of the best dishes and sweetened drinks reserved for this month. Even Muslims who drink alcohol will refrain from any intake during the entire month.
In the evenings, neighbors, friends and families socialize. It is also a period of reflection and worship and many followers will interrupt sleep with intervals of prayer and reading of the Quran. Before sunrise, the family will again gather around Sohour (a light meal) to eat and drink until the last possible moment in preparation for the next day ahead.
In the posts to follow I will try to project images from Ramadan in Tartous. Some of these are shared by all Muslims everywhere else. Others are unique to this small geographic area. I will try to describe some Ramadan dishes, folklore rituals and other small matters which make anyplace a home to its inhabitans.
Ramadan Karim (A Generous Ramadan) to each and every one of you.