Fasting during Ramadan is something most Moroccans look forward to and before Ramadan arrives there is a palpable sense of excitement. and the first night of Ramadan is something of a party. On the other hand, there are many Moroccans who leave the country during Ramadan in order to spend their time with relatives in the cooler climes of Europe. Not everyone has that option and and overwhelming majority find Ramadan a time to renew their faith and spend more time with their families. Yet Ramadan is not without its problems. There are health and financial issues that every family has to face.
The health benefits of fasting are unclear and the failure to drink water during periods of extreme heat is a recognised and serious problem, especially for those doing manual labour during the day. As The View from Fez reported last Ramadan, The longer days at this time of year have the added burden of intense heat and biggest health problem for most people is not being able to drink water. "People become dehydrated and cannot concentrate,' explains Fez shopkeeper Omar." Late afternoon is not a good time to take a taxi," he says with a wry smile then whispers, "of course many people do drink a little water, but not in public."
That Ramadan is falling in the heat of summer is causing problems not just in Morocco, but around the Muslim world. For some the heat means they will have to break their fast, while others will simply try to tough it out. "There's no choice but to bear the heat," says Jalal Qandil, 38, a sun-browned, sweating construction worker in Gaza City and father of five school-age children. "If I don't work, we won't eat this Ramadan. But God will help us."
Other labourers said they would quietly break their fast, trusting that God understands.
"Sometimes it's so hot, that we can't touch the metal poles on the scaffolding without gloves," said Munir, a 26-year-old Pakistani labourer in Dubai. "You cannot work in these conditions without water. I am religious and respect Ramadan, but it also is not intended to make you sick or put you in danger."
Religious authorities in the United Arab Emirates allow labourers to break their fast if the temperature exceeds 50 Celsius (122 Fahrenheit). Other Muslim scholars say, regardless of the temperature, labourers can break their fast if they feel weak or thirsty. They have to make up the days later, said Sheik Mohammed Ali, an Iraqi Shiite cleric. "They should have the little food and drink that can make them able to work," he said.
While the debate about dehydration will doubtless continue, there is little disagreement that the spiritual side of fasting is almost universally positive.
An Anglican (Church of England) priest visiting Morocco during Ramadan told The View from Fez that he found the Moroccan attitude towards fasting "inspiring". He pointed out that Christians fast during Lent, but, as he put it, "Giving up oysters and chocolate for Lent is something of a fad". He's not wrong.
There is a festive side to the holy month, but for most Moroccan families the daily grind of work goes on. The purchasing of special food, the price rises in the souks, and the pressure to buy new clothes, all add to cost and for people with few financial resources Ramadan can be a stressful time.
As Youssef Sourgo noted in Morocco World News last week, there is a huge amount of work behind the scenes and most of it done by women.
It’s eight sharp in the morning, and she’s already woken up. An avalanche of unclean dishes from last night’s nocturnal meal is awaiting her in the kitchen sink. Will she manage to finish washing the dishes in time to move on to taking care of the rest of the house? Oh, and she has a couple kids to watch after while simultaneously performing her home tasks.
She’s already exhausted while she still haven’t reached the cooking part. The fasting makes it even more challenging for her. It’s 19:00. All is clean, neat, and ready by the time the other members of the family abruptly show up to break their fast around the evening table. She eventually made it, isn’t that a miracle? - Youssef Sourgo
First Time Fasting
If you are a non-Muslim, then fasting can seem strange. So, what is it like to fast for the first time? In Rabat, Erin MacDonald decided to see what fasting felt like and so last weekend she fasted for a full day. As she says, she decided to fast on a weekend as she was unsure of her ability to fast and work.
As a foreigner here in Morocco during Ramadan, it has been intriguing to me to observe Moroccan Muslims observing their fast. I decided that I should attempt, at least for one day to experience what most Moroccans are experiencing all around me. So, I decided to fast, I figured it couldn’t be that hard.
I purposely chose to fast a day on the weekend, so I wouldn’t have anything strenuous to do and so it wouldn’t be too difficult. I’m not sure I could get through a day of work while fasting, especially on my first attempt.
I remember feeling particularly grateful that I have never taken up the habit of smoking, and I can certainly sympathize with those I have noticed sneaking off into alleyways to get their fix since Ramadan began. I also have a new understanding for the crankiness I have noticed among people here during the day, that was absent prior to the onset of Ramadan.
Now although I do not have a chemical dependency as strong as the one most smokers have to their nicotine, I do have one vice. Despite several attempts over the past decade, I have never been able to shake my commitment to caffeine. Starting my day with a large coffee, and having a few cups of tea throughout the day keeps me sane. So it is difficult to know if the headache and shakes I felt all day long can be attributed to caffeine withdrawal, hunger, dehydration or a combination of all. Regardless, I can say that throughout the entire day, I felt truly awful. And I certainly gained some new respect for the people who are going through this for an entire month! Especially those who are continuing full time work or study.
My undergraduate studies were when I first learned about Ramadan. Yesterday, I found myself thinking about the dutiful Muslim students at home in Canada who observed the fast-even during exam periods, and even when most people around them in class were snacking and drinking hot beverages, which undoubtedly would have filled their nostrils. I can’t imagine how difficult this must be. Although my day of fasting was difficult, it was made easier by the fact that I am in a place where nearly everybody around me is also fasting. I think this would be far more difficult if I was in the minority.
Some Muslims have expressed to me that there are health benefits to fasting, which they feel about halfway through the month of Ramadan. However from a purely physical perspective, there is nobody who will ever convince me that dehydration is good for you. That being said, I can certainly see the health benefits of fasting in a more holistic sense, in terms of spiritual, emotional, psychological and long-term health.
When it comes to food consumption, I will never be known as a shining example of self-control. Those who know me well, have often marveled at my seemingly miraculous fortune to have evaded weight problems. So in terms of long-term health, I can certainly see how developing self-discipline when it comes to food consumption could be of great benefit. In terms of psychological, and emotional health I can also see how mastering one’s impulses and improving self-control could be an accomplishment, and also make a person emotionally and mentally stronger.
Another reason for fasting during Ramadan, is to show solidarity with the poor. With those for whom the deprivation of food and water is a daily part of life. This is certainly a beautiful tradition, and sawm along with zakat, are two things I find beautiful about the Muslim religion.
Although I have new respect for the practice of fasting- one day was enough for me. I wish all Muslims good luck in what will surely be a challenging few more weeks of the Ramadan fast.
Erin's story first appeared in Morocco World News and is published with permission
See all the Ramadan Diary excerpts - RAMADAN DIARY