One of the five pillars of Islam is called Sawm, which is fasting during Ramadan. It’s a month during which Muslims go without food or drink while the sun is up. It actually goes beyond that to include impure thoughts, smoking, and acts of violence. Muslims are also supposed to reflect on their relationship with Allah and think of those less fortunate than themselves. The month is based on a lunar calendar and this year runs from sundown July 8th to August 7th.
In a Muslim country such as Morocco, day and night switch. Businesses have special hours and people change their pace and schedules. The contrast between Ramadan and the days I was here leading up to it are like black and white. The section of Rabat where I live (Agdal) is a shopping area with a strong Western influence. Before Ramadan, it was like any other shopping area: open during the day, but closed by 9. Ramadan is the opposite: it’s a ghost town in the morning when I leave for school, and alive when I come home for the evening.
The day starts later now because people can’t eat or drink when it’s light out. They will wake up around 2:30 to 3:30 to have breakfast, called suhoor, and drink water before going back to sleep for a few hours. The day moves pretty slowly, with most businesses opening later, or not at all until the night. Restaurants are closed, but some sell food on the streets to take home for dinner.
Even though I’m not Muslim, I don’t eat or drink in public to avoid offending those fasting. While certain areas of Rabat are more Westernized than others, it would still be impolite to start chomping down on a chocolate bar in front of someone who hadn’t eaten for several hours. I still get meals and can eat at the school though, and if I need to drink water when I’m out I can duck behind a building.
Dinner is called iftar, and is the main meal. You can begin as soon as the sun sets, around 7:45. Everyone has their food laid out in front of them before that, waiting for the okay to begin. The meal usually consists of soup, eggs, bread, Ramadan cookies, juice, and of course: tea. Already delicious, it becomes more so after a day without food. People usually run right before iftar so that by the time they return they can drink water.
This Thursday my NSLI-Y group got to help serve iftar on the streets, soup-kitchen style, with an organization called Volontaires Libres. We set up tables and chairs on the sidewalks, then helped organize the food into plates for each table. Then we set out utensils and bowls, and when people arrived and filled the seats, brought out the food. The tables filled quickly, and we actually didn’t have enough room for everyone who showed up. There were men, women, and children of all ages. Everyone, in true Moroccan fashion, was very friendly and appreciative of our help, willing to talk to us in Arabic, French, or English and say hi. After everyone ate we took down the tables and chairs, washed the dishes, and swept the streets. This sort of public iftar is done all throughout Ramadan, all over Rabat.
The city comes to life at around 9. All of the stores and cafés open, and everyone goes out. There are people sitting in parks talking, walking, eating, and having fun. Soccer is big here (and called football), and there are matches that start every morning around 1AM near my host family’s house. Lights are on, music is everywhere, and people are out just to enjoy the night and each other’s company.
I miss out on a lot of what goes on during the night because I need to sleep and be up early for school, but for the hours between the end of school and when I get to sleep I definitely see a whole new side to Rabat. Everything has more energy and the streets feel even safer, no matter how late into the night, because of all the people around.
Ramadan ends after I leave, but I hear it’s a huge celebration, with lots of food and music. I hope to see it one day!