15 Aug

August 1st brought with it not only a new month of adventures but the start of the Holy Month of Ramadan. Having had the opportunity to be born and raised in Bahrain (a small island in the Middle East), I thought how different could it be. A week later, I am still surprised at the different ways Ramadan is treated in different countries and communities.
In Bahrain, growing up, I remember how I distinctly did not like Ramadan. Bahrain is populated with a mixture of Arabs and expatriates from different corners of the globe like India, Pakistan, Philippines, Britain, and United States etc. Every year, I waited for Ramadan with some dread. Ramadan for a young school girl meant restrictions as life in Bahrain seemed to draw to a standstill. Shops were closed, businesses slowed down and to be seen with a water bottle in the street would come with harsh punishment. It almost was like I was being forced to observe a religious practice I did not share. Now don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed the celebrations that followed, but for a young girl, that one month was challenging. I celebrated as much as the locals did when Ramadan ended.
Today, I see it with different eyes. As I spend my days in Ouelessebougou, I am filled with awe for the people around me. Pregnant women and older people fast as if it were a norm. Even my nieces and nephews observe the holy month. I myself am weak. I cannot bring myself to do it. I tried it one day and by lunch time, I thought my stomach was going to squeeze itself into non-existence. Like I said, I am weak. In Mali, even though the population is 90% Muslim, there seems to be a general understanding that not all can fast and it is not to be held against them. There seems to be a general acceptance of an individual’s right to choose whether they want to observe fasting that day. Expressions of “I be su wa?” (Are you fasting?) are commonly heard and those who are not fasting are jokingly berated. Most Malians believe like many Muslims that fasting brings blessings and those that fast will be regarded favorably by Allah (God). At first I reduced the number of visits to my brother in law Bei, as he seemed exhausted those first few days. However, soon he told me not to change my habits because of him. As I sit chatting with Bei, I am amazed at how my nieces and Kadja( Bei’s wife) will work consistently and in the heat of the day. The role of the women is more pronounced during Ramadan. These women make sure there is a meal to eat at 4:30 in the morning before the fast starts. They make sure there is meal to break the fast and then ensure that there is enough to eat after the mosque. In addition to this, they wash clothes, draw water, clean the compound, pound millet, take care of the kids and any other thing that needs their attention. And they do all this on an empty stomach. The women of Mali amaze me. I wish that I had their strength and ability to see the goal and not the present struggle.
So what is Ramadan? Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Every day during this month, Muslims around the world spend the daylight hours in a complete fast. . As a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice, Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking. The Arabic word for “fasting” (sawm) literally means “to refrain” – and it means not only refraining from food and drink, but from evil actions, thoughts, and words.
As we enter the second week of Ramadan, the tone changes a little. Things become more routine and a little easier to handle. Also people start prepping for the big celebration ( Eid Al Fitr) which starts when the new moon is sighted. The celebration will include a killing of a sheep and dancing. Children will also go around to neighbors greeting them. These children will receive some money or rice as they go around. After their rounds they will return and celebrate with music and dance. Today when I went to Bei’s compound, I saw the kids prepping themselves for the celebration that was two weeks away. They were dressing up and pretending among themselves. Also the women are prepping themselves with new clothes and new clothes for their children. New shoes, dress cloths and jewelry are a common sight as women get ready for the month end celebration.
Campaigning too has drawn to a standstill during this month. Ramadan truly serves as month to remind people to go back to their roots and refocus thoughts on their creator. No matter what our religion is or which walk of life we have come from, Ramadan serves as a reminder that all of us can give thanks for our many blessings and celebrate the silent force in our lives.

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Posted by on August 15, 2011 in Past Posts


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