August 19, 2010
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The Taste of Fasting - By Helene Sairany

Before I continue writing this piece, I just want to wish each and everyone reading this post a very Happy Ramadan.  I’ve always felt a special connection to this blessed month. It is of no surprise that Ramadan is by far my favorite time of the year.

I feel that a brief introduction on Ramadan is needed to this post. In the month of Ramadan, we Muslims practice an act of worship and build empathy for the world’s less fortunate, for whom hunger is not a choice. We get a chance to reflect, to deepen spiritually, and to strengthen our bonds with family and friends. Ramadan is divided up into 3 parts, each of which consists of ten days. The first ten days are referred to as the mercy days; where Muslims seek God’s mercy and share it with others, especially towards family-bondage. The second ten days are forgiveness days, where Muslims seek forgiveness and repentance and make amendments for our mistakes. Finally, the very last ten days of Ramadan symbolize emancipation from hell fire and it is here where Muslims spend their last 10 nights in solid devotion and exert themselves even more in worship.

Ramadan is not about starving yourself for 16 hours from sunrise to sunset during the exhausting heat of summer. While going about restraining from food or drink during the summer heat becomes worrisome for those living with no electricity and excessive heat everywhere, no one can perceive fasting as pleasant but Kurdistan and the Kurdish people have proven this wrong. Don’t get me wrong, the growling noise of hunger and the itching throat of thirst are clearly present but this is only a self-reminder to appreciate those who struggle from starvation simply because of their geographic location being a third world country.  Our hunger might be a choice to commit for a month, but those who don’t have this choice are forced in this position making hunger their life long struggle.

So why write about the taste of Ramadan?  Well this is my very first Ramadan in Kurdistan since childhood and i wanted to take this opportunity and compare my Ramadan experience in the west to my experience here in Kurdistan, where it is less convenient for simple yet essential necessities such as food, water, etc.

I’ve maintained the Islamic practice living abroad for 15 years and I can’t deny that I’ve felt a loner fasting every year while my friends continued to munch on food in front of my eyes, i retrained from any food or drink. While in the states, where I paid close attention to the clock ticking until Iftar rather than hearing the beautiful Adhan calling for Maghreb Prayer and indicating sunset to have my Iftar.  Or the times where time was always a push in the U.S. where I had to grab my food and run to class to have my Iftar during class sessions in front of the professor lecturing. Here, family members are all present around the dinner table enjoying the family bond with delicious food. The only closeness I had when it came to family bondage during Ramadan in the States was through phone calls and emails where i would call my siblings across America to wish them a Ramadan Karim. 

Here in Kurdistan, Ramadan is a complete different picture. Ramadan has a very unique taste to it in Kurdistan. The special taste can’t be felt or experienced elsewhere nor can it be explained. It is hard to say that anyone can feel my experience of gratitude to its fullest if they have failed to live abroad.

There is something special about every ritual practiced here in Kurdistan; from the small dish of soup or the fresh warm bread the neighbor brings for you right before sunset to the sound of the Quran on television, the peaceful sound of Adhan coming from the mosque, the aroma of neighbor’s cooking in the afternoons, the family gathering around the dinner table for Iftar, and the daunting hours before sunrise (aka suhur) to have breakfast before a long day of fasting. 

How many times in the year we get to have the opportunity to have a family gathering around the table in the States other than in Thanksgiving?  I am afraid not much. The unity of the entire family before having a piece of date to break your fast is a rare sentiment to experience living abroad. The disappearance of family value is what made me feel as the down side of living in the West. The value of family is almost of no existence.

Though not everyone fasts here in Kurdistan, since we are the most religiously tolerated area in the Middle East where there’s Christians, Catholics and Muslims intermingling on a day to day basis, it is indeed well respected. Although not fasting themselves, non-Muslims retrain from eating food or drinking publicly as their form of respect. Also restaurants were operating regularly except during Ramadan, you see curtains covering the naked eye to see food being made, sold, eaten, etc.

During my college and university days in the States, I remember how I would join the Muslim Student Associations every year to hold fast-a-thons to spread and increase awareness about the actual meaning of fasting specifically for those who weren’t Muslim. We would spread posters all around college and university campuses about Ramadan and Islam.  I approached the head of the library in my college to put a display together consisting of all Islamic antiques and books with informational pamphlets about Ramadan and Islam for students to read. In Kurdistan you do not have to sit and explain what Ramadan is all about. Just as you walk on the streets of Dohuk and Hawler, you hear Quran in the background; you feel the sentiment in the atmosphere that Ramadan is indeed in process and people are fasting.
So wherever in the world you are now, I am assuming that this is your 8th of 9th day of fasting. So I wish you all 21 more days of happy fasting. 

So in my very humble Kurmanji, Ramazan per piroz be :)


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