Tuesday, August 17, 2010

About Ramadan for non-Muslims

The Holy Month of Ramadan is marked with many, many Ramadan tents, where poor people can eat for free (obviously, only between sunset and 90 minutes before sunrise). Some of the tents only serve iftar, the meal taken just after sunset, while others serve sohour, the early morning meal to sustain Muslims through the day-long fast.

Farook took me with him to the Dubai Cattle Market (the official mis-translation of the Arabic Souk Mawashi Dubai, or Dubai Livestock Market). I saw sheep, goats, and cattle, and Farook told me that a different part of the 'cattle' market also sells camels.

Farook took me from stall to stall asking the prices, weights, and countries of origin of the sheep, goats, and cattle. Once he finds the best buy, he'll definitely buy at least a sheep, and he says that this Ramadan he might also buy a whole cow, some poor, old, post-change-of-life bovine. But he will definitely buy at least one sheep, and perhaps a few goats. He will then take his purchases to the Dubai Municipal Abattoir, and from there take the meat to a Public Kitchen, or tabakh, to be cooked into a dish of meat and rice called biriani.

Then he'll give most of the biriani to one of the charitable groups that hands out the free food during Ramadan.

I mention this because I have never seen anything quite like it in Western countries. People asking for free food in the West are often questioned and frequently humiliated, to discourage free-loaders; but here, any hungry person, whether Muslim or not, is free to eat in the Ramadan tents with no questions asked (but only between sunset and 90 minutes before sunrise).

In accordance with Islamic tradition, they give each person a few dates, then the biriani, and side dishes of fresh fruit, and salad, so it's a very healthy meal. Since the person hasn't had anything to drink all day, they also give bottled water and juice and sometimes buttermilk.

At least for this month, everything that Christianity preaches about compassion is actually practised throughout the Islamic world.


Anonymous Bushmechanic said...

Your friend is a good man.

For what happens in the West, (well actually a bit further East) try looking for "Meals on Wheels"

Almost every day, more than 20,000 people throughout New South Wales are helped by about 190 local Meals on Wheels/Food Service organisations. At last count, just over 35,000 volunteers were regularly giving their time and skills to this essential community service.

Clients receive a nutritious and tasty meal, delivered by volunteers who have time for a friendly chat. Services work to meet clients’ individual needs, across differences in culture, dietary need, religion, medical condition, language, physical ability and personal taste.

Many of the volunteers are themselves retired, donating their time and vehicles for the operation.

3:29 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

I especially love the Ramadan customs of Cairo, when a wide range of wealthy people arrange mass Iftars, often right in front of their residences or apartment buildings - the great dancer Fifi Abdou is especially well-known for this.

But I don't think you need to be impressed by Ramadan generosity at the expense of the West - private charities of every kind reach out to people in need all year 'round. When I lived in New York, my church participated in a program that brought homeless people to stay the night; each night they would get a hot meal at one church, then go to another nearby one to sleep, then in the morning, after breakfast, to a third that made counseling and social services available. That meant that once a week, volunteers from the congregation - old and young, men and women - would gather to set up beds in the church's elegant parlor and receive our guests, with two of us spending the night with the group of homeless men. It was an experience I will always treasure for what it taught me about the ways in which people's live can go off the track, but work slowly back to a better place.

5:35 pm  
Blogger Expat Arrivals said...

I really enjoyed this post and it actually inspired me to commission an article for my site regarding the very nature of the topic. Just wanted to say thanks for the idea and show you the finished product a few weeks later: Understanding Ramadan in the Middle East as a Non-Muslim, would love to have your feedback! You can contact me at stephanie@expatarrivals.com

12:19 pm  
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8:59 pm  

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