Wednesday, October 05, 2005



Ramadan, the period when devout Muslims fast (no food or drink) between dawn and dusk, started yesterday. There are some aspects to it which strike me as admirable and others as odd. Of the oddities, one is that noone knows exactly when Ramadan will start. Although we live in an age when people have walked on the moon, and we can compute the time of the birth of the universe, the start of Ramadan can only be confirmed by a visual sighting of the new moon. So right up to Sunday, people were still saying, well it might be Monday or it might be Tuesday.

Then there is the change to daily life. Things don't wholly shut down, but it does become much less easy to get stuff done. Most businesses here shorten the working day by two hours or so to make things more tolerable for fasting staff. There is a (literally) frantic rush-hour at the end of the day as people try to get home for the evening meal. Driving standards, which are fairly low here at the best of times, become simply dangerous, and the accident rate shoots up. There's a sort of institutionalised acceptance of all this, that during Ramadan people will act differently and that's okay, which I find at odds with the spirit of the fast. Fasting during Ramadan is (in part) supposed to concentrate the mind of the more fortunate on the situation of the poor, and provide a real reminder of what hunger and thirst can mean. Working shorter hours and reckless driving are not, in my view, compensatory options open to the poor. It would be altogether more meaningful to work a longer day and drive more carefully than usual. But then that's easy for me to say. I'm not Muslim and I'm not fasting.

Evenings are the time for families and friends to get together to break fast at the evening meal. Everything is hugely social for a couple of weeks until, as someone told me "we're all tired of seeing one another", and then goes slowly back to normal. That is until Eid, the holiday at the end of Ramadan, where everything really does shut down for three days while everyone celebrates.


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