Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Ramadan Diary ~ 2015 ~ Day Twenty

Ibn Warraq continues his Ramadan musings...

Doesn't time fly when you are having fun er... Ftour! Already we are into the last ten day of Ramadan 2015 and the days have vanished like dates after ṣalāt al-maġrib (the evening prayer).

Seriously though, so far it has been a wonderful Ramadan in Morocco, with the only real downside being the extreme heat. The next ten days see a continuation of the heatwave and nobody seems to remember Ramadan being this hot. And it is causing health problems, especially for older people and those who have to work during daylight hours. Thankfully, all the advice from the medical profession and most moderate imams, is "If you are feeling faint or ill, it is ok to drink some water." Of course many of those who do break their fast because of health issues will make it up in the days following Ramadan.

With the next week seeing temperatures rise to around 42 or 42 degrees Celsius it is interesting to contemplate going somewhere else for Ramadan. A very cool destination would be New Zealand, where last week saw temperatures in some areas dip to minus 21 Celsius! There are more than 46,000 Muslim Kiwis and many of them would be willing to trade some of their cold for some of our heat.

New Zealand's snow covered South Island as seen from space

There is another advantage in New Zealand  and that is that the fast only lasts for 11 hours - probably one of the shortest in the world and is, as one Muslim woman put it, "a breeze". Compare that with yesterday's Ramadan Diary report from my friend Lynn Sheppard, who told us that in Scotland Muslims are required to go without food for more than 20 hours. Then there is Finland and the other Nordic regions where Muslims in the Arctic zone will this weekend witness the longest day when the sun does not set and are at a loss over when to break or start fasting.

The debate about how to rationalise fasting hours goes on and on with different approaches from moderate and conservative scholars.  In New Zealand, Dr Zain Ali, head of Islamic Studies Research, said he supported having an international guideline for fasting periods during the Islamic holy month. "I will be comfortable with the idea of a set of Ramadan guidelines, and the Islamic tradition already has a number of guidelines, for example, exemptions of expecting mothers," Dr Ali said.

In the UK, an Islamic researcher from anti-extremism group Quilliam, Dr Usama Hasan, suggested following Mecca timing, where daylight during Ramadan lasts around 12 to 13 hours.

But is it really just about the hours? Dr Ali said it did not mean Muslims who undertook longer periods of fast were making a greater sacrifice. "We can't really measure the spiritual value of fasting in terms of hours spent without food," Dr Ali said."Muslim scholars always point toward the intensely personal nature of fasting, in that its value is dependent on an individual's experience."

Fasting NZ style: you can eat before you know it

Malaysian-born Nadia Najib, 21, says Ramadan fasting in New Zealand is "a breeze" because of the short hours. "You just don't feel it at all and before you know it, fasting is over and we get to eat again," said Miss Najib, who works her dad's halal Malaysian restaurant on Karangahape Rd in Auckland.

Short fasting hours are also good for business, she says. "Because people break fast around 5.30pm, we get Muslims coming to the restaurant straight after work instead of going home."

The biggest challenge Miss Najib faces she says is having to work around food during the fasting month. "It's not about being tempted to eat, but that you have to consciously remind yourself not to taste the food or drinks you are preparing."

First prayer - then its's a date, but no harira

When breaking fast some traditions are universal, in New Zealand, just as here in Fez, sweet dates are the first food consumed, following a tradition set by the Prophet Muhammad. But then it's not harira, but Malaysian dishes that are most popular for breaking fast including nasi lemak (coconut rice), roti canai and satay. Yum, B'saha.

Meanwhile in Ouzazate

Ramadan in Ouzazate serves as a reminder that while we complain of heat in Fez, the good folk of Ouzazate are experiencing some pretty warm weather with temperatures up to 60 Celsius. Thankfully, this week it looks a little cooler.


The Ramadan table in Ouarzazate has much in common with that of other parts of Morocco, but differs in some respects. Being invited for Ftour "in Ouarzazate, you can expect the famous harira soup,  chourba "(vegetable based soup) and" hssoua "(soup made ​​with semolina). All of these, according to the local grandmothers, are indispensable for "purification of the intestines" and "preparation of the digestive system" to receive food after a long day of fasting.

The local dates are famous and great for breaking your fast, while  there is also an abundance of sweet treats, or "chhiwate"  and traditional pastries such as "chebakia" and "briouates" (kinds of cakes soaked in honey). Moroccan pancakes as the "beghrir" (pancake prepared with semolina) or "msemen" (a kind of pancake puff) are everywhere.

Traffic light melting in Ouzazate - it has been warm

For a moment consider how it is to work in a bakery during the hottest time of the day or the physical exertion in rural households where many of the ingredients are still prepared by hand.  The "Rha" stone (traditional hand-mill) and "Mehraz "(traditional mortar) still occupy a prominent place within households in the region and are widely used to grind or pound the flours that are the basis of traditional soups, such as barley (or Dchicha Ibrin), corn (Isenkar) and bean (Agren).

Another regional favourite is "Tikhdoukhin", a thick soup made ​​from wheat with high nutritional values ​​when consumed along with the "smen" (salted butter) or olive oil, plus a medicinal plant called "Chih".  Housewives are also responsible to prepare and store the ingredients of "Lehrif", a dish made ​​with green onion and pepper. The Suhoor meal (Shur in the local dialect) is crucial and centres around bread - "Tafernout", - straight from the oven. Surprisingly, this is probably a distant relative of the roti they are eating in New Zealand.


A Ramadan Hero

Tunisian hero Moncef Mayel

Another of Hamid's moderately funny jokes...

Chakib had a wonderful antique shop in Fez and one day he was visited by two teenage boys looking for a little work. Chakib having, as they say, a "heart of milk", agreed that they could help him clean up his storeroom.

In the dusty storeroom the boys uncovered an old manual typewriter. 'What on earth is this?" they asked Chakib.

"Oh, that's just an old typewriter," Chakib answered, thinking that would satisfy their curiosity.

"Yeah, but what does it do?" they queried.

"I'll show you," Chakib said and going back to the shop, returned with a blank piece of paper. He rolled the paper into the typewriter and began striking the keys, leaving black letters printed on the page.

"WOW!" the boys exclaimed, "That's really cool -- but how does it work like that? Where do you plug it in?"

"There is no plug," Chakib answered. "It doesn't need a plug."

"Then where do you put the batteries?" they persisted.

"It doesn't need batteries either," Chakib said

"Wow! This is so cool!" the boys exclaimed. "Someone should have invented this a long time ago!"

Saha Ftourkoum!

See Ibn's Ramadan Dairy
DAY ONE        DAY FIVE       DAY NINE          DAY THIRTEEN   DAY SEVENTEEN
DAY TWO       DAY SIX           DAY TEN            DAY FOURTEEN  DAY EIGHTEEN
DAY THREE   DAY SEVEN    DAY ELEVEN    DAY FIFTEEN      DAY NINETEEN
DAY FOUR     DAY EIGHT     DAY TWELVE    DAY SIXTEEN

Please feel free to contribute your Ramadan stories, thoughts, observations and photographs. You can contact me via The View from Fez contact page. Just put "Ibn's Diary" in the subject line - Shukran!

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Monday, July 06, 2015

Ramadan Diary ~ 2015 ~ Day Nineteen

Ibn Warraq's Ramadan Musings...

Experiencing Ramadan in a Moroccan home it is hard to imagine how different it would be if you were in a foreign country where the support networks and extended family are not present as willing and knowledgable hands in the kitchen and convivial companions for Ftour and Suhoor.

My friend Lynn is experiencing her first Ramadan outside of Morocco. While she won't be missing the heatwave conditions, she does admit that Ramadan in Scotland is something of a challenge.

I tried to imagine a Scottish Ramadan. Haggis tagine, maybe? Scones and jam? But, joking aside, it was interesting to find out how she is coping in Scotland so I asked her and she was happy to share her impressions.

A Scottish Ramadan

I have always enjoyed the conviviality and hospitality of Ramadan in Morocco, but as a non-Muslim have felt a bit of a fraud benefitting from the ftour spread of friends and family when they haven't eaten all day and I have. Additionally, while Ramadan has fallen during the summer months, it has presented a good opportunity to leave the country to visit friends and family at home in Scotland. Since last Ramadan, however, there have been some major changes in my life and my Moroccan husband and I are currently experiencing our first Ramadan together in Scotland.

My impression from Muslim friends living in Europe is that observing Ramadan in a non-Muslim majority community, away from family and home, is always a challenge. The togetherness (and home cooking) are missing and the Holy Month lacks much of its special atmosphere. Also, in non-Muslim countries, little accommodation is made for Muslim employees and so many find themselves working all day and then grabbing something to eat at work, possibly not the foods normally associated with the occasion and maybe not even at the appropriate time.

We moved from Essaouira in Morocco to Edinburgh in Scotland in December last year. I wondered how my husband, Yassine, would observe Ramadan when it came around. I had heard of Muslim immigrants in northern Europe who choose to follow the prayer times of the nearest Muslim country (Morocco) or of Mecca, in order to regulate their fasting. When he asked around the few Moroccans he has met in Scotland, however, Yassine learned that they followed the prayer times issued by the mosque. He decided to follow suit, meaning he breaks the fast around 10pm. He doesn't eat at Suhour, but he tries to drink as much water through the night as he can. Muslims in Edinburgh have to stop eating and drinking at around 2:20 am - at the end of fajr. The sunrise call to prayer comes a couple of hours later at around 4:20 am. Almost 20 hours of fasting, while working full-time, in a new job, is no mean feat, but Yassine takes it in his stride. After all, he believes, the purpose of Ramadan is reflection and spiritual cleansing - he seems to be able to rise above and beyond his hunger.


This doesn't mean to say that he doesn't look forward to his Ftour when it comes around! I have tried to make Ramadan special by making some of the traditional foods, such as harira soup and chicken tajine. We have also found items in local ethnic food stores which approximate foods from Morocco, such as Indian parathas (like msimen), samosas (like briouats) and dates (from Iran and Tunisia rather than Zagora). On a recent trip to see the family, I was sent back with several kilos of amlou, argan oil and slilou, so we were all set for a Moroccan-style Ramadan! Sometimes I send Yassine to work with a kind of picnic Ftour to heat up and eat at work; sometimes we eat together at home. I have invited some friends over to share Ftour with us, but not many Scottish people are willing to wait until 10pm for what is essentially their dinner! Nonetheless, we have had fun sharing Moroccan Ramadan traditions with our non-Muslim friends at the weekends.

Yassane waiting for Ftour with Scottish friends, after twenty hours of fasting

Ramadan is, of course, also a time for giving. We found out that the Central Mosque in Edinburgh distributes iftar (using the Classical Arabic term) and dinner to dozens of local Muslims. It is provided by local Muslim-run businesses and enjoyed by Muslims from countries as diverse as Algeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, Somalia and many more. It's rare to hear Moroccans at the mosque - the community simply isn't that significant. For North Africans, however, a Ramadan meal of curry and rice (those with their origins on the sub-Continent make up the vast majority of British Muslims) simply doesn't feel right! Luckily, a local Moroccan restaurant (the only one in Edinburgh) provides a more familiar Ftour on Fridays and Saturdays. We went along on the 10th of Ramadan. Along with the restaurant staff, a couple of young Moroccans and two Libyan guys, we were treated to a spread of harira, panaché juice, croissants and msimen, followed by mint tea and coffee, then a huge chicken tajine with salad. When we went to pay, the restaurant owner insisted that he couldn't charge for Ftour during Ramadan.

Halal chicken tagine - made in Scotland

With these long days and short nights and a limited Moroccan community around us, practicing Ramadan is not easy in Scotland. I asked Yassine what he misses from the Ramadan he knows in Morocco. He told me "the adhan" - without a call to prayer, we are reliant on a smartphone app to tell us when to break the fast. As a Swiri, he also misses "sardines" on the Ftour table, and he misses the buzz in the souks in those last couple of hours before Ftour when everyone is hurriedly buying ingredients and treats for the communal meal. On the positive side, he finds his new friends and colleagues curious about Ramadan and he enjoys explaining to them the traditions and meaning for Muslims of this special month.

Part of the essence of the Holy Month is about putting our own challenges and hardships into perspective and thinking of others less fortunate than ourselves. In this spirit, we have our health and our larder is full. We may be abroad, but we are very fortunate. El Hamdudlilah!

You can follow Lynn Sheppard's adventures on her blog: Marocophile

Ramadan Nights

The French Institute's Ramadan Nights continue in Fez at Dar Batha on July 9th at 10pm with Tunisian percussionist, Imed Alibi, Stéphane Puech: keyboards Zied Zouari: violin with Pascal Teillet and Massimo Tommacelli.

In recent years, the emergence of a generation of musicians from the Maghreb and Middle East have been producing new music, melding hi-tech to deep traditional motifs, throwing their sound as a bridge between East and West.

Imed Alibi, Tunisian is a prolific virtuoso percussionist, who delights in Sufi and Amazigh music, while Zied Zouari coaxes his violin into eastern emotions and rich orchestration, supported by thin dub lines and electro beats.

It is an invitation only evening, so to find out more (and get invited) contact:
French Institute: 33, Rue Loukili, BP 2277, Fes. Tel: 0 5 35 62 39 21/62 35 40 / Fax: 0 5 35 62 52 03
Space languages: 12, Rue Serghini, BP 2277, Fes. Tel: 0 5 35 62 41 49 / Fax: 0 5 35 62 56 65
Riad Dar Batha: 15, Salaj, Fes Medina. Tel: 0 5 35 63 67 13

Hot Weather Ftour

Témara Beach in Rabat - and a table well dug

Another of Hamid's moderately funny jokes...


Maha's husband, Saladin, was arrested for shoplifting and when he went before the court the judge asked him, "What did you steal?"

Saladin replied, "A can of peaches."

Then the judge asked Saladin why he had stolen the can of peaches and he replied that his wife, Maha, was not a very good cook, didn't feed him enough and that he had been very hungry.

Then the judge asked him how many peaches were in the can.

"Six peaches," Saladin replied

The judge said, "Then I will give you six days in jail."

Before the judge could actually pronounce the punishment, Maha spoke up and asked the judge if she could say something on her husband's behalf.

The judge nodded and asked her to speak up.

Maha replied, "He also stole a can of peas."

Saha Ftourkoum!


See Ibn's Ramadan Dairy
DAY ONE        DAY FIVE       DAY NINE          DAY THIRTEEN   DAY SEVENTEEN
DAY TWO       DAY SIX           DAY TEN            DAY FOURTEEN  DAY EIGHTEEN
DAY THREE   DAY SEVEN    DAY ELEVEN    DAY FIFTEEN
DAY FOUR     DAY EIGHT     DAY TWELVE    DAY SIXTEEN

Please feel free to contribute your Ramadan stories, thoughts, observations and photographs. You can contact me via The View from Fez contact page. Just put "Ibn's Diary" in the subject line - Shukran!

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