Fasting is one part of the do’s in some religions. Practicing believers consistently and cautiously respect and observe it as a way of worship. It is a recent memory Christians honored Xom Arbaa two months back. These days Muslims are in their holy month of Ramadan. In Islam fasting is a unique moral and spiritual quality to attain the noble status of piety. Ramadan, thus, as the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, is treated as a fasting month every year.
As such, fasting as a pillar in religions is observed in many days of the year. However, its obligations depend and vary among the religions. Ramadan, is a serious twenty nine to thirty days of fasting Muslims do. It is a month of blessing and abstinence for believers of the religion.
Being a child and fasting is a bit challenging and parents tell their children to fast half a day and God will consider it one day of fasting. At our early ages, we were advised by our parents to start and practice fasting so as to take part in the great rewards. In fact adult above eighteen start fasting.
A strangest thing in these days is that children check each other’s tongues whether they are really fasting. If their tongues are dry, white and look thirsty, then they conclude to their friends, “Ok you are fasting”! If not you are mocked and are one day behind in the mind of your friends. Another strange thing, we used to spit frequently in the day time while we fast. We did this in order not to break our fasting by swallowing our saliva.
“Dan-dan tsbah ya Romodan”, translated as “Dan-dan tomorrow arrives Ramadan” is a children copy righted song God knows of which year. The first words rhyme with the last words of Ramadan. The song was simply introduced by children and persistently pronounced by Ferejet (an old man) on the eve of Ramadan.
When it comes to fasting day’s schedule, Ramadan, yearly, is dragged back ten days in the Islamic Lunar Calendar. This means that if last year Ramadan started on day 20 of the calendar, this year it starts on day 10. So, gradually, the fasting month revolves around the year and the faithful in Eritrea will be fasting their respective fasts- Ramadan and Xom Arbaa- in the same months within the next two to three years, not so well for the local markets I presume.
Fasting becomes difficult if you live in the lowlands and have to observe fasting in hot seasons. Most people who live around Gash Barka region and the Coastal areas look only for water when breaking the fast since they find themselves dehydrated in the day time. Many sorts of drinks are served in breaking the fast at the sun set. When these people climb to the highlands and witness the weather is much more comfortable and absolutely calm, they notice that highlanders are not fasting but they are. It is pretty challenging to fast in the hot places with no air conditioner in the house. Nowadays, it is becoming common for the lowlanders to move on to the highlands when the hot seasons begin.
Prior to Ramadan, mothers are involved in grinding oat to make Shourba (Oat Soup) for the Futur (breaking fast), buying wheat for the Suhoor (late night meal) of Porridge which is the most common meal. Surely, Eritrean mothers are well known for their food management and processing skills not only in fasting periods but all over the year. Nowadays, if you find yourself passing by the grinding houses, the queues are endless.
Suhoor hour is the time to get up and eat to cope with the tough day ahead. Getting up for Suhoor was very hard in childhood, I remember only wiping my eyes with small amount of water to get back to bed quickly. But when the first days pass, everyone gets used to and start to get up before the alarm(mom) knocks your bedroom.
The uniqueness of Ramadan however is seen when people share the blessing of what it brings. The things shared are tangible and main ones are intangible. Plenty types of dishes are served; Dates, Shourba, Sambusas (fried conical shaped pastry filled with meat) and Meqlils (fried sweet dough): special types of dishes are served mainly in this period. In the neighborhoods, it is customary for the fasting families to share their delicious dishes with their neighbors, some nights, if not every night. Some women, in particular, cook for Futur, in two separate dishes; one for their family and the other for neighbors. The days are of “offering” and enhancing relations.
In schools friends expect their Muslim friends to bring snacks and share in morning hours. That is probably why it is becoming ordinary to see Sambusa in the shelves of pastries next to Cheese cakes and Donuts. I used to sneak out of my house holding some Sambusas and Meqlils to my best friends by night time. My mom would yell at us (the kids) in the morning when she discovered half the pastries she had reserved for the next day had gone.
A favorite spot people frequent in times of Ramadan is the streets near the Grand Mosque Kulafae Arashidin. This street offers a row of tables full of the delicacies mentioned earlier, fresh vegetables and fried meats with stunning smells. Not only Muslims but others enjoy the breaks with this servings. Some customers buy take-aways for family dinner at home.
After the Iftar or Futur and regular prayers, families gather to enjoy the series of dramas on TV, coffee and the rest of their meals. I recall a drama titled Mutawali I which a man married seven wives with a challenging family life controversies. A very entertaining drama that got every spectator ’s attention at home and brought men home early.According to Islamic rules, a fasting person prevents himself from taking-in what he likes and throwing out what is considered disliked. While fasting, the person’s body, the eyes, nose, mouth, tongue, ears, and hands…fast. The entire body fasts, unlike the other days. At these, the true image of a person is reflected. In addition, Ramadan is the holy month when believers read much of their sacred scripture, the Quran.
Fasting reminds people that there are poor people out there who have most of their days with less food. Institutions and individuals gather and help poor people in this month. The aid can be financial or material. Charity is very well practiced in this month. Poor people make their ways to the mosques and holy places, where they get their blessings, material and spiritual assistances from their brothers and sisters.
Modesty and discipline are reflected and respected in Ramadan for the reason of Istimsak (Arabic term for ‘abstinence’). So, all the days are refreshing occasions even for the ill doer to see themselves right, thereby finding social harmony. It is a period of self-determination, spiritual cleansing and self-enlightenment.
“Ramadan Kareem” is the commonly repeated word and wish Muslims exchange in this month. And the likely reply goes “Allahu Akrem”. Wishing you a generous Ramadan.