Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ramadan Diary ~ Midnight feasts and Cosmetics

While there are officially only two meals a day during Ramadan, there is a lot of other eating that goes on in the middle of the night. Today's Ramadan Diary looks at meals, snacks and the latest hot gossip from Afghanistan...

Only Two meals a day - Lftour and Suhoor?  

As soon as the sun sets, the Athan (call to prayer) is recited from the minarets and in Fez the traditional “Ramadan Cannon” is fired from the Southern Fort to announce the breaking of the fast - the moment you can start eating iftar or as the locals call it, Lftour.

Lftour starts with dates and milk or the avocado smoothie Fez is famous for. Then there's bread (at least three kinds), pastries, and hard boiled eggs and of course harira soup.

Religiously, before Muslims break the fast, they say certain prayers like, “Allahuma inni laka sumtu wa ‘ala rizqika aftartu” (O Allah! for thy sake I have fasted and now I break the fast with the food that comes from thee).

The second meal is Suhoor, the meal that nobody wants to miss.

A rare sight - Yassine Boudouàià - a young D'kak in the Fez Medina

To make certain you don't miss this meal is the job of the Bou Damdoum in Amazigh or D’kak in Moroccan Arabic, (the drummer), who uses his drums or N’ffar (a long horn that makes buzzing sound) to guarantee that everyone in the neighbourhood wakes up in time to cook and then enjoys their Suhoor meal.

Suhoor is eaten early in the morning before the Fajr prayer. The whole purpose of Suhoor is to provide people fasting with enough nourishment and energy to keep them going for the next 16 hours. During those hours an overwhelming majority of Moroccans will abstain from food, drink, cigarettes and sex.

Popular dishes for Suhoor include meat tagines, entire chickens and vegetables. In accordance with the Prophet's saying, “Tasaharu fa ina fi Assuhoori Baraka,” (Do have Suhoor for there are blessings in it), Muslim devotees never deliberately miss such a meal.

Of course I was not quite accurate when I said "two meals". Yes, sure, just two? You have to be kidding. The amount of food and drink consumed during the evening and morning hours may be concentrated on the two main meals, But, in between those two meals, snacking is a high art form.

And I am not talking just traditional mint tea, Coke, Sprite and a few mouthfuls of  Sellu (Zmita) or Shebakia, one of the most artistic manifestations of Moroccan cuisine. I am talking about sweet flights of fantasy, honey coated and twisted like a Chinese puzzle. And it's all different.

"Try this. Simple almond paste and honey. My mother made it." It's certainly good. "Not like in the souk for twenty dirhams a kilo. No,.." My informant leans forward to confide in me. "This would be one hundred dirhams a kilo ... if you could buy it".

And with all the eating (yes, I'd love a little more pistachio ice cream, thanks) and smoking, there is much to talk about. Tonight the chat is about... (hang on while I pour some coffee and pass the cakes)... make-up.  The Afgan Mullahs have discovered make up. Not that they wear it, but they have found out that Afghan women were wearing it. How they managed to find out, given the Afghan burqa is pretty concealing, one wonders. (Pass the bottle of Hawaii, please)...  So, they have discovered make-up and decided they don't like it. And the reason is something we have all suspected for a long time. Wearing make-up leads to adultery and that is something they certainly don't like.

In their collective wisdom, the mullahs in the north have released an eight-point fatwa that includes such progressive prohibitions as forbidding women to go "outside" without a male escort. Note to self: male escort service could be a winner in Afghanistan. It also restricts women's clothing and promises  "punishments" if they do not comply with the new rules and threatens violence if disobeyed: "If officials do react to our demands, we will start a jihad, "  says cleric Zmarai, in the Deh Salah area of Baghlan Province.

Happily the locals are not all in agreement. In fact, a local  Deh Salah mayor Abdul Rassoul was killed on July 6 as he campaigned to close cosmetic stores. He was allegedly shot down by an angry shopkeeper.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, during which time Afghan women had virtually no rights. Some think the new fatwa is an attempt to turn back the clock. "They want to bring back the Taliban days," claimed a cosmetic shop owner called Abdullah. "We are poor people and they have closed me down," he said, adding: "I want the government to take action or we are going to have mullahs running the place like the Taliban again."

Well at least some moral support is coming to the cosmetics industry in the shape of a proclamation by Dubai's Grand Mufti. Dr Ali Ahmed Mashael, who says: "Using a deodorant does not break the fast, However, if incense is deliberately inhaled, then it violates the rules of fasting". Well, I am glad we have cleared that up.

We discuss all of this for hours, while eating and drinking more mint tea than is healthy. At last Mustapha sums up. "Thanks be to God we live in Morocco where people are reasonable, happy and not extreme." Al Humdullilah to that.

I can hear the D'kak drumming his way towards us. Now, would you please pass me those chocolate biscuits?

2 am and the children dance with Yassine Boudouàià, the D'kak

See all the Ramadan Diary excerpts - RAMADAN DIARY

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