Ramadan – a mysterious word associated with a holiday, bloody slaughter of a ram, and with Muslims who have, in turn, recently been associated with terrorist attacks. We had the opportunity to experience the nature of that Ramadan first hand!
This photo was taken during the Eid holiday which ends Ramadan.
Ramadan, ramazan, ramzan, or rozan – for those are the names of the holiday – is not so much a holiday as the ninth month of the year according to the Muslim calendar. For believers of Islam Ramadan is sacred because it was in that month that archangel Gabriel revealed to Muhammad the first verses of Quran, the sacred book of Islam. Ramadan is frequently confused with the Festival of Sacrifice during which a ram is killed, in commemoration of Isaac’s sacrifice. We did not have an opportunity to witness the observance of that holiday so let us return to Ramadan.
Ramadan is a month of fasting during which it is forbidden to consume anything during the day. You can imagine how hard it can be to persist in not eating anything and not drinking when the temperature exceeds 30 degrees Celsius… Meals can only be consumed from dawn to sunset. In the evening, after prayers, families have dinner – iftar – together, and shortly before sunrise they have a heavy breakfast – suhoor.
The elderly, ill people, and children are exempt from fasting, and so are travelers (thus, we
qualify for the exemption). During the day, though, it is not allowed to eat in public, especially in the company of fasting people. One can do it at home. Ramadan ends with the great holiday Eid during which fasting is formally completed. Celebrations differ slightly among Muslim countries.
We first experienced Ramadan in Iran, and saw it end it in Pakistan. Actually, on the first day of the month of fasting nothing special was going on. Shops were open as usual, one could shop without problems, only there were no street food stalls and small eateries were closed, their window panes covered with newspapers. Why the newspapers? We found out the answer in Bandar-e-Abbas in Iran. We were waiting at the bus station for our bus to Zahedan. It was to come in two hours and we were getting hungry…
Oblivious of the fact that it was midday, Andrzej went to look for some food. All the small eateries at the station had their windows covered with newspapers and looked as if they were closed – but that was not the case! When the door of one of them opened one could see that inside there were people who, for various reason, did not observe the fast and happily gorged on rolls with meat and cooked vegetables. Off course, we were glad to join them!
No-one ever had any objections to us, tourists-foreigners-nonbelievers, on account of our eating or drinking. We did not flaunt that either. When we were at the guys’ place in Marvdasht in Iran, their mom even used to treat us to things by during the day. I remember her preparing a delicious dinner for us and serving it when we came back tired from workshops. We felt a bit awkward because we were the only ones to eat and the others were only watching. It was then that we learned that it was a sin to eat in the presence of a fasting person :). So, we have committed sins galore… Our hosts did not mind and the guys’ mother was offering us countless servings of rice, meat, and vegetables. We were in a trap because, on the one hand, it was an uncomfortable feeling to eat alone and, on the other hand, it was impolite to refuse the food which had been prepared especially for us. Again, it was a matter of the boundless Iranian hospitality. In spite of the spiritual dilemmas we enjoyed the meal which was heavenly in taste!
There came a moment, though, when we could sit at the table together with the rest of the family, for dinner, and that was very pleasant. The second meal is consumed before sunrise, about 4:00 AM, and no-one wanted to wake us up. Still, I had an opportunity to observe the family at breakfast. We were sleeping on the terrace at that time and I heard some shuffling and the sound of cutlery on plates. It was still dark. I half-opened one eye and saw the whole family sitting on the Persian carpet and having breakfast. I observed them in that manner, with one eye, as they were eating in complete silence, by the light of a lamp, as if they were conspiring. Then everybody went to bed again.
It was similar in another Iranian house in which we had the pleasure to stay. When dinner time came all the dishes prepared earlier were placed on an oilcloth spread on the Persian carpet, and the whole family sat with us around the food. From the TV we could hear the lazy cry of the muezzin – a “live transmission” from Saudi Arabian Mecca. What were we waiting for? We were waiting for the moment after the prayer when the mullah says the words “Allah is great”. When the words were finally said the TV was switched off and we started to eat all the delicious things (a camel lasagna, among other dishes).
In Pakistan the rules of Ramadan are identical and also have to be observed. In hotel restaurants we could have a meal at any time of the day, without any restrictions. At one point we thought for a moment that we could try to fast for a day, just as Muslims do. The idea was quickly abandoned. Somehow, we could hardly imagine a day without food and drink, and besides, we had no rational arguments for it. Moreover, it seemed to us that fasting during the day and eating a lot at night was not very healthy…
Ramadan was not particularly bothersome for us, beside the fact that fasting people seem to be less patient and one has to remember not to offer them anything to eat or drink because, off course, even though they are hungry and thirsty they cannot accept the offer. Nevertheless, we could hardly wait for the end of that holy month. The main reason for it was that we were invited to celebrate the first day of the end-of-Ramadan holiday to the house of the owner of “Madina”, our hostel in Gilgit. For us and for the other hotel guests (there were about 12 people) it was a huge honor and we had great fun on that occasion, too.
The day before the holiday someone in our hostel explained that we had to do shopping as the shops would be closed for 3 days. It is indescribable what was happening on the streets of Gilgit. People crowded the market and the small shops. A pre-holiday mad shopping spree… It looked like Christmas season in our region.
All Muslims are heading toward the mosque.
In the morning, on the first day of the end-of-fasting holiday, Eid, it was quiet and peaceful, and the streets were completely empty. Everything was closed. Suddenly, we heard a muezzin’s cry. The streets became full of Muslims heading toward the mosque. Everyone freshly bathed and dressed up because there is a custom of buying new clothes for Eid. Often, they buy the very popular shalwar-kamiz. Women wear colorful clothes, paint their hands with henna, and put on countless glass bracelets which clinked at their every step. After prayers the people return to their homes and, with the whole family, have a meal – finally during the day!
In our hostel we also felt the solemn holiday atmosphere. We were waiting for a car which was to take us to the owner’s house. When the merry group of a dozen of tourists arrived at the house, we were treated to delicious dishes made of meat, vegetables, and rice. At the end we had the typical Pakistani dessert, that is the English custard – something similar to our Polish “budyń”.
We were not surprised with the fact that we did not see one woman, we were only served by men. We were informed that women usually celebrated separately, in another room, chiefly because men had long and complex conversations about politics which were not too interesting for the ladies. I thought it was a bit sad that the women’s world was still so separate from the men’s one and that it was so hard to find a common denominator.
Well, I got a better understanding of the nature of the problem when the men – the guests of “Madina” – started to talk about politics. One has to admit that it was a select company: the Czech, Dutch, English, Polish, and Russian people, one Korean woman, and a Columbian. It is needless to say that the greatest differences surfaced between the Polish and the Russian parties… That was to be expected! It was at that moment that I asked where the ladies’ room was and, together with other girls, we went to have a good women’s chat.
That was a superb idea. We had the opportunity to meet and talk to the hostess, visit her designer and sewing atelier, and at the end we received the gift of a set of colorful glass bracelets. In front of us there were countless cartons filled with bracelets of all the colors in the world. We could each choose the color we wanted. The Korean who was standing next to me deftly tried on ever new glass rings. And it ought to be mentioned that the bracelets are simply stiff circles made of glass and they are not flexible. I also attempted to try them on but, unfortunately, a Polish puppeteer’s hands are not tiny Korean hands and a bracelet got stuck on my hand before it got to the wrist… Apart from crushing my fist it would not move in either direction. What a disgrace! But I noticed that the Czech girl had the same problem, is it that Slavic women have the largest wrists in the world? We were helped by the hostess who, with a few graceful movements, rid us of the troublesome jewelry. In the end we both left with sets of what I thought to be the largest bracelets in Pakistan.
That was how the first day of the end of Ramadan looked like. The two following days are spent on visiting close and distant relatives, greeting them, and making small gifts of things or money.
After the very nice and warm welcome in “Madina” owner’s house we returned to the hostel. It became late. The men decided to continue the conversation about politics which had just turned into an argument. Suddenly, the debate was stopped by loud, whizzing noises. It turned out that it was the less sensible part of the Pakistani society, shooting in the air from Kalashnikovs and celebrating the holiday in their own fashion. What a horrible idea! I heard noises in my ears after those shots. After about 30 minutes the police managed to get rid of the problem and the “sensational” ideas were over. We were completely safe but we wondered that so many people there possessed potentially lethal machine guns in their homes…
When Ramadan and the Eid holiday were over everything went back to normal and the shops and small eateries on the main street were finally open… At least, it provided us with a new source of interest. And it was finally legal to eat and drink on the street!