Reflection on Ramadan

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Photo Courtesy of: http://www.khaleejtimes.com

A harmony of prayers echo around me as I reflect on these first few days of Ramadan. While I myself am not a Muslim, nor religious at all, it is beautiful. It is as if the chorus of voices sing the Arabic phrases — the only melody the usually-bustling village will hear until the moon is full again. Impromptu dance parties, wedding ceremonies and even naming babies are all on hold for the month devoted to prayer and worship.

From sun up to sun down, Muslims around the world are fasting. The sacrifice here is especially grueling in the heat of a summer that’s yet to see the relief of rain. But for 30 days, together, they abstain from both food and water, in the name of Allah.

In The Gambia, hot tea is served as the sun disappears. In my family, I am responsible for serving it to break the fast. At 7:15, I stare into the pot as tiny bubbles slip to the top. Blip, blip, blip. Soon, the water is rolling and I twist my gas tank off. I carry the pot out to the porch where I drop four tea bags into the water and stir. Then it’s the balancing act of satisfying the Gambian sweet tooth while ensuring there’s enough sugar to last the month.

“It’s time,” my eldest brother says and the whole family comes to join me on the porch at 7:40. Quickly, I pour, then pass the glasses.

I am not beside my family during prayer. And while I try for a few of the days, I can’t bear the toll of their fast for the full 30. But still, they invite me to be part of this important month: I serve the tea.

It seems simple, serving tea, but I treasure it in a way that perhaps can’t be translated beyond this experience.

We take our cups out to the center of the compound where one sister has set out the food. Two small platters of something special – beans or noodles with fish or salad – is served with bread. Seated on mats, we circle around the plates, one for the men and the other for the women and children. We eat together. It is silent.

When the plates are scraped clean, they’re carried away and the mats are swept. Each person in my family takes a place on the mats again to say a quick, quiet prayer. I hold the littlest kids and we watch from the porch.

After, for the next hour, we rest our full bellies while we lay down and look up at the sliver of moon. Now and then, someone will squeal from the sting of a vicious ant bite. Otherwise, it’s small chatter.

Soon, the calls begin again. First, at the biggest mosque at the far end of the village. Then, at the smaller one just across the road. And finally, in our compound. A young boy comes to the front of our house and he bellows a sing-song call for the other neighbors to join as one.

“It’s time,” my eldest brother translates for me again. The day’s fifth and final prayer.

The mosques are full of old men and even older women. The rest come to pray at my house. Toddlers up to teens trickle in. A few young adults also join. Finally, our yard is full. New sheepskin, woven rows of tattered plastic, recycled rice bags: prayer mats of every kind cover the sand. Forty-six neighbors, nearly all children, kneel behind my father. As their tenured teacher and respected elder, he begins their prayer. In unison, up, down, up, down, they rise and fall in worship. For almost an hour, their prayers echo across the village as a similar scene plays in the mosques and outside other respected families’ homes.

The people eventually scatter and rejoin their own families for another meal at 10. Then, they will rest and rise again to eat and pray once more before the sun.

For me, Ramadan is not about the religion, but still, it has been powerfully meaningful. Ramadan is culture and tradition. It is about strength. Ramadan is sacrifice; it is control. It is devotion. Ramadan is togetherness. Ramadan is community.

–JDF