Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Passing the Ramadan Days in Morocco

It is still Ramadan. Here is an article about adjustments Moroccan make to their day for Ramadan.

Moroccans adjust lifestyles to fit Ramadan traditions


Ramadan brings about changes to schedules and habits, and many Moroccans end up adjusting their lives to enjoy the month more completely.

by Imane Belhaj for Magharebia in Casablanca – 04/09/09

Ramadan seems to bring changes to nearly everything in Morocco, from mealtimes to prayer schedules to people's personalities.

Young people in particular can find Ramadan a time of flux, with opportunities in everything from spirituality to business. Said, a young entrepreneur engaged in selling pre-made pizza crusts, is one of those locked in the latter kind of challenge.

"I like doing this kind of work because it makes the time fly," says Said, who each day rides his motorcycle to Maarif, a densely populated Casablanca commercial district, where he sells huge quantities of the pre-baked crusts.

"Ramadan really is generous," adds the young diploma-holder in hotel and restaurant management, who says that moonlighting in the pizza crust business "helps me prepare for opening my own small Moroccan dessert and appetizer shop".

Ramadan offers more spiritual challenges to other young people. Among them is 14-year-old Omar, who says the baking heat made his first day of fasting particularly hard. He spent most of his time watching TV, but couldn't concentrate. So he's spending Ramadan sleeping late, to help pass the time.

"It's not right," says his mother, Naima. "But I can't stop him from sleeping late. I'm afraid he'll stop fasting altogether, even though it's now his duty at his age, as it is for all Muslims."

Young people aren't the only ones affected by the Ramadan schedule shake-up. Retirees also adjust to new routines, but not all of them can agree on how to pass the time.

"The fasting hours are really long this summer," says Majeed, a senior who usually spends at least part of his day outside, locked in an intense and often raucous game of dominoes with colleagues and neighbours.

"People, especially the ones who don't work like myself, can't just stay at home counting the hours and minutes until iftar time," adds the retiree. "That would be really hard. Meanwhile, time passes quickly when we play."

But Majeed's peer, Mohammed, believes there's a lot more to Ramadan than playing cards or dominoes.

"I wake up a little bit late because I only sleep after the dawn prayers," said Mohammed. "Then I go to the market to buy the necessary ingredients for iftar. After that, I go to the mosque, and spend the rest of the time reading the Qur'an."

Moroccans formed a Facebook group to appeal to fasters and non-fasters during Ramadan.

Regardless of their age, most Moroccans seem to agree that Ramadan is also a month for TV. Many people seem to keep a tight grip on the remote control, jumping from one satellite channel to another until iftar, and even afterwards, especially if they skip the taraweeh prayers.

But not everyone is willing to miss out on taraweeh. Rachid is one of them.

"They're an indispensable part of Ramadan," he says. "After prayers, I spend all night with friends, until dawn, when we head to the mosque. Then we go to bed, and don't wake up before the noon adhan."

In addition, some people prefer sport to channel-surfing during Ramadan. Men spend more of their work-out time outdoors during the holy month. About an hour before the sunset adhan, many people go to the riverbank or other green areas away from the crowded streets. They walk or run, while groups of friends exercise, sweating heavily without regard for thirst or fatigue.

"Walking or running is very useful," said exercise enthusiast Idriss, who adds: "I try not to exert too much effort, so I don't wear myself out."

Along with Ramadan's typical changes, modern technology has added a wild card. The decision by some people to skip fasting, for example, has a new wrinkle: a Facebook page created by several Moroccans to encourage a "quiet discussion" between fasters and non-fasters.

According to the group's founding members, fasting or not fasting is an individual choice for which no one should be criticised. The group's 431 members rally to the slogan, "Fasting and non-fasting people in Ramadan: We are all Moroccans."

In his introduction to the group, member Najib Shaouki calls for a dialogue between fasters and non-fasters that doesn't delve into religious sermons or criticisms.

The group was also founded to call attention to the fact that Moroccans who don't fast don't want to be persecuted for what they see as a personal choice. Under Moroccan law, eating in public during daylight hours is forbidden during Ramadan, and those who consume food in broad daylight fear public repercussions and even violence.

The group has generated varied reactions from Facebook users, from those who highlight fasting's status as a pillar of Islam to those who see not fasting as a matter of personal freedom.

Overindulgence in seasonal treats can cause a variety of health problems.

Amidst the debate about the pros and cons of not eating, doctors warn that excessive iftar indulgence, as well as failing to eat the right way, can cause Moroccans a lot of gastrointestinal problems.

"[E]xcessive eating usually has negative consequences for one's health," says Dr. Abdelhamid Sallaoui. "Fasting doesn't mean blending all types of food at the time of iftar; instead, we should deal cautiously with the stomach."

Fasting is also a factor in the workplace during Ramadan. Employees are divided between those who see their job as a way to kill time until iftar, and those who are grouchy and nervous because they haven't had their morning coffee or cigarettes.

"The behaviour changes are imposed by a psychological need for certain materials to enter the human body," says Ali Fadhily, a sociology professor. "Abstaining from these things causes some sort of disorder in people, especially smokers or coffee drinkers."

"When these habits are lost, many people lose control over their behaviour and their daily dealings with others, or even with themselves," he adds.

On the street too, fasting may lead to problems. In Morocco, this is called tarmadina, or getting angry for trivial reasons. Squabbles and even fist-fights can result.

"This is completely forbidden, and it ruins the fasting of Muslims, who should embrace tolerance and good manners," says imam Saadedine Najeh.

Najeh says people should focus more on the religious aspects of Ramadan, and not just refraining from drinking and eating.

"It's a … training in the values of tolerance, mercy, and solidarity between the rich and poor," he says. "Therefore, we should receive it with joy, charity and piety; not make it an excuse for hateful behaviours and shameful practices. Nor is it a month of laziness, sleep or play; rather, it is the biggest motivator for quitting bad habits and embracing virtues."

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