Monday, September 24, 2007

Ramadan Report

*In addition to the usual five times of prayer a day Muslims add another 90 minutes of Tarawih prayers in the evening during Ramadan. A translator applicant we met recently described the nice feeling of a family dinner and then going in a group to pray at the mosque. You get special breaks for prayers during Ramadan too -- like our Catholic special indulgences --but you have a work a little harder than usual. There are four "bends" in regular prayer session, Nadir explained to us, deep bowing in reverence toward Mecca. Tarawih requires 12 bends.

*After you go all day without eating, when you finally do sit down and ravenously eat dinner, food tastes sooo good. And then you get hot. Really, we throw open the balcony windows after sitting down originally with long sleeves and socks on. Food seems to turn instantly to fuel that heats you up.

* Just as newspapers in Christian countries get fat in November with ads and extra pages, Ramadan is a good season for journalism here too. Our newspaper boosted the number of papers it prints for the season for example. In Morocco book sales go up. Reading is a way to pass time during fasting hours.

*Children, pregnant women, people who are sick and travelers are not required to fast. One of those exempted in the traveler category this year will be Malaysia's first astronaut, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor who is lifting off in a Russian space craft Oct. 10. en route to the space station. Malaysia's Science Minister says the Muslim astronaut will not be compelled to fast, though he has been during his training for the flight.

He also will also only have to pray three times a day instead of five. Kneeling and bowing in a gravity-free atmosphere is a chore -- and so is figuring out what direction Mecca is at when you are orbiting the globe.

*Next to the concept of mass fasting, I like the idea of zakat, a required act of charity, mathmatically derived, during Ramadan. The head of every household is required to give enough to pay for two kilograms of semolina wheat for every person in the family. Algerians use semolina because that is a staple food here, but other Muslim countries use whatever is their staple. The government posts an official price per kilo because, of course, the market price varies daily so that zakat calculations would be complicated. This year it is 50 dinars -- a little less than a dollar -- a kilo, meaning that a typical family of five must pay 500 dinars -- under $10.

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