Ramadan is the month for fasting which is one of the five fundamental pillars in Islam. One of the main objectives of fasting is to help the body cleanse and detoxify itself by giving the digestive system as well as the reproductive system a break for a whole lunar month for the period between dawn and sunset which can be 12 hours per day or much longer in some parts of the world such as Alaska. Muslims then end their daily fast after sunset in a meal called “Iftar” which is Arabic for breaking one’s fast and then again just before dawn some may choose to eat a light meal called “Suhur”. It is common practice for some to stay up all night then eat Suhur and pray at dawn before sleeping till prayer time at noon to help endure the deprivation which fasting dictates, assuming one does not have to go to work.
Another purpose is to reinforce the power of the mind over the body by strengthening one’s will power to break bad habits such as smoking. Yet one more purpose is to experience the thirst and hunger which poor people suffer from; this should reinforce the spirit of giving among the pious. Additionally, giving up physical pleasures may help one become more spiritual by focusing on prayers, and other religious rituals; it is worth mentioning that the mind experiences some re-training in Ramadan since bad thoughts, gossiping, or committing any detestable acts will spoil one’s fasting. Scientifically speaking fasting has been proven to be very valuable for the body; it is very common these days for doctors to prescribe fasting for curing various ailments.
At the end of Ramadan Muslims enjoy three days of festivities called Eid Al-Fitr (the-end-of-fasting holiday) which represents the victory of the will power over earthly pleasures, this is when people visit each other in celebration.
Ramadan is the month for reviving one’s faith, strengthening family ties and renewing friendships. Many people spend some time every day reciting verses from the Qur’an which they try to finish from cover to cover, even people who do not say their prayers the rest of the year make sure they do so in Ramadan because fasting without praying is believed to be unacceptable by God. Muslims believe that inviting persons who are fasting to dinner is highly rewarded by God particularly if the invited are poor or cannot fend for themselves.
Ramadan may be the only time nowadays when families eat meals together regularly. Everyone including adults looks forward to the man who beats his drum while he roams the street about one hour before dawn, calling upon the pious in a loud voice to wake up; he serves as the alarm clock at Suhor time. Children get very excited about Ramadan, they insist on participating in many of the rituals, to the delight of their parents who usually will convince them to eat after a few hours of “tryout” fasting. Another excitement for children is the new clothes and larger than usual allowance they receive in celebration of Eid Al-Fitr in addition to gifts from close relatives.
In preparation for Ramadan many housewives in Lebanon are currently getting ready by doing some thorough and serious spring cleaning of their homes since they will not have the time or the energy to do their chores as well while fasting. Women are also busy stocking up on ingredients which are essential for cooking such as lentils for soups, sugar, nuts and flour for the sweet desserts, and dates which are the most important food item in Ramadan. Universities are cutting short the break between spring and summer semesters in order to reduce the number of days of teaching in the month of fasting. Some professors will refrain from teaching and some students will avoid taking classes during Ramadan in expectation of the difficulty of performing well while fasting during the summer heat. Smokers and caffeine addicts’ may start to wean themselves by gradually reducing substance intake a couple of weeks prior to Ramadan in order to avoid the severe headaches when fasting starts should they experience a sudden withdrawal of addictive chemicals from their blood stream.
Unlike some Arab countries which shut down completely for the whole month of fasting, Lebanon just reduces working hours which typically become five hours from nine AM till two PM. Lebanese people who live abroad usually return home to spend the month with family especially now as Ramadan happens to be during summer school break this year.
Some people – in particular those who do not fast – get anxious about the arrival of Ramadan since it restricts socializing hours to the time between sunset and dawn, and it embarrasses them every time they have to confess that they are not fasting, thus they cannot accept an invitation to Iftar. Single people and foreigners with no family around may experience the “Ramadan blues” as in the “Christmas blues”, although it is very common to have a lot of open invitations for a free dinner at mosques and charitable organizations for the whole month, to which they can just drop in!
The downside is that in today’s tough economic conditions some people may worry about the expected price increase of many food items that are consumed more frequently during Ramadan especially dairy products, sweets, juices, meats as well as the vegetables used to prepare a salad called “Fatouch” which consists of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, green mint, red radish, green onions, lemon juice, olive oil, and pita bread; this traditional Lebanese salad serves as a light starter and a rehydration mechanism.
Sadly many people will miss the point of observing Ramadan, when they overeat or indulge in smoking or other bad habits between Iftar and Suhur. Others may become too preoccupied with what the TV networks have in store in terms of soap operas, musicals, talk shows and game show specials, many of which have nothing to do with spirituality or religion, since the holy month has become a golden season for producers who turn out sequels to many of the hits of prior years. Many Muslims will be glued to the TV set for the whole month which distracts them from some of the optional religious traditions of Ramadan such as reciting from the Qur’an or offering additional prayers. In addition, unfortunately a lot of waste of food happens in Ramadan since people compete in preparing expensive and extravagant feasts with numerous dishes, which may never get finished due to the reduced appetite.
One just hopes that Ramadan in 2013 will prove to be a time for a lull in the current chaos in the region.