And so begins Melibee’s first Ramadan guest blog post series! Today’s post is by a friend – let’s call her Michelle – who met and fell in love with a Muslim Moroccan man – let’s call him Yassine. To kick off this series, we have decided to not focus on who she and her husband are, but rather their story of Ramadan. Enjoy!
Tomorrow begins my first Ramadan married to my husband. Well, no. I’m not quite sure—different sources say different things. Tomorrow may be the first day of the month of Ramadan, or it might be the next day. It depends on the moon, and the local mosque will be posting exactly when Ramadan starts. Until then, I don’t really know if tomorrow will start the month of fasting, or the next day. It might go against my American attitude to not know, but it’s one of the beautiful things about life that Morocco has taught me to accept and appreciate: letting go of control.
But it’s hard sometimes.
As a non-Muslim woman who is married to a fantastic man who will be fasting (abstaining from all food, drink, cigarettes, obscene language, and sexual contact) from sunrise to sunset for thirty days, I’ve been nervous about what it’s going to be like in the US. It’s his first Ramadan here, and his first Ramadan outside a fairly large community of Muslims.
Though I love Islam and have the utmost respect for the religion and its followers, I hate to admit that I’ve almost been dreading Ramadan because it’s such a lifestyle change and such an unknown. I constantly find myself thinking about the negative aspects of it: dealing with hungry and sometimes grumpy people, or people who are going through caffeine or nicotine withdrawal, changing schedules drastically, and not even being able to touch my husband other than an accidental bump or brush until sundown.
I worry that our approximations of the foods that typically are used to break the fast– red harrira soup, shining briouats stuffed with shrimp or beef and vermicelli noodles, or tagine stews consumed at midnight or later—won’t match up to his mother’s cooking, and he’ll feel more homesick than ever before. I worry that I will have a bad attitude at times and not support him in this expression of his faith.
It’d be easier if we were still in Morocco. After four years there, I learned to love many elements of Ramadan and look forward to it there.
I loved experiencing moments like the night that I stood at the Place des Nations Unies in downtown Casablanca—the intersection of five major thoroughfares right outside the old medina—and was shocked at the silence. Usually, the honking of horns, the exhaust fumes, and the sheer mass of cars and people is overwhelming. However, it was absolutely silent, and it was eerie. It’s almost the equivalent of Times Square completely deserted at 7:30 at night. The reason for the silence? The athnan, or call to prayer, had just finished, and everyone had gone home for iftar—the meal that breaks the fast during Ramadan.
Iftar is one of the most striking and beautiful moments for me. Sitting in a friend or neighbor’s home, breaking the fast with warm milk and a sweet sticky date, watching the same Ramadan television specials that most of the country is watching, eating a similar meal to everyone else, and knowing that it’s just the beginning of what can be an invigorating night— it all makes me feel a part of something bigger than myself. Even as a non-Muslim, I felt so warmly welcomed and accepted through people’s hospitality and the privilege of sharing with families during these nights that was really one of my favorite parts of living in Morocco.
My friends talk about going to the mosque and praying at night, after iftar, shoulder to shoulder with their friends, neighbors, family, strangers and praying and listening and meditating, sometimes for hours. I wonder what that might feel like. I wonder what it’s like on the Night of Qadr to stay in a mosque all night, praying until sunrise with others. I wish there were something that tangibly intense and powerful in my own faith.
For those who don’t pray all night, or who are lucky enough to be able to have a late night without worrying about early morning work schedules, streets that are usually deserted by 10:30 pm become lively and invigorating sometimes until 2 or 3 am. You can barely make your way through major markets: old people, young people, children, families, friends all come out for shopping, eating, drinking tea or thick fruit juices, or just for a nice stroll.
There’s something to be said about the atmosphere shared by a nation and beyond. The knowing looks during the day when your throat is parched and you just want that drink of water, or the resolution that comes from feeling like faith moves you past that point of cravings. The talk shared by an entire nation no matter social class or geographical location the next day about the Ramadan TV specials…or walking past stands with piles of sesame-coated chebeykia pastries dripping with honey on the streets, circular pancakes that fall apart in spaghetti-like strands called raziza, and piles of fruit for juice. It’s invigorating. It’s so communal and feels like more of a shared experience than I’ve ever felt in the US.
But I don’t know what to expect here, at home.
Part of me wanted to encourage my husband to visit his family in Morocco for the month. We could kill a few birds with one stone, and I could continue my life uninterrupted, other than missing my traveling husband. But it didn’t work out. Ramadan is here, and so are the two of us.
Luckily, I have had a few “practice” nights over the last week. My husband fasted a few days before Ramadan, so there’s been a few nights already that at 8:30 pm, we’re eating dates, drinking tea or milk, and breaking his fast together.
The other day, we spent a few hours after work shopping for food and cooking together in the kitchen. I learned more about Islam than I had known before as I observed him doing things I hadn’t seen before. He made a fantastic shrimp and tomato tagine, and we tag-teamed it on some delicious seafood briouats. They almost tasted like his mother’s.
Another night when we broke his fast together, we sat around the television for a few minutes after eating, and then he looked at me. “Let’s go for a walk.”
We walked for hours, doubling our “typical” route, talking about our childhoods and stories that illustrate how different our childhoods and upbringings are, but how somehow we work well together. It was a glorious night as we got home, giggling, at midnight.
It’s been easier than I thought, and I love learning more about him, his faith, and where he comes from. It’s a change, for sure, but I’m excited to see how this Ramadan goes for us. And, ultimately, I’m glad he didn’t go to Morocco, but that we’ll be able to experience this special, spiritual time together, learning, growing, and sharing.