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[casi] From Riverbend October 31

Friday, October 31, 2003


Remember "Malcom Lagauche"... the author whose site
was shut down after he got too many hits? You can now
find him here: Lagauche is Right

- posted by river @ 12:25 AM


Ramadhan is the 9th month in the Islamic year (which
also has 12 months, but only has around 358 days).
Ramadhan is considered one of the holiest months of
the Islamic year- in my opinion, it is the most
interesting. We spend the whole of Ramadhan fasting,
every day, from the first rays of light at dawn, until
the sun sets. In other words, we can neither eat, nor
drink, nor smoke, nor chew gum until it is time to
‘break the fast’ during the evening.

Ramadhan is the month during which the angel Gabriel
first visited our Prophet, with the message of Islam
and the Quran. That is why it is celebrated by Muslims
all over the world. The exact date of the momentous
occasion can’t be calculated exactly, but it is
believed that ‘Laylet il Qadir’ (the night the Prophet
was first visited by Gabriel) is towards the end of
Ramadhan (many believe that it falls on the 27th

Ramadhan is a festive month, in many ways. It’s like
the last two weeks of December- a little bit hectic,
but important, all the same. It’s that month where you
get to see all the family you never you knew you had-
the intolerable cousins, the favorite aunt, the
grandparents, nieces, nephews, uncles and even the
great-uncle you thought had died last year. The whole
month is sort of a ‘family month’.

The fasting works like this: at the break of dawn, we
simply stop eating and drinking. This lasts through
the whole day until ‘al maghrib’ or dusk. Fasting is
considered one of the ‘arkan’ of Islam, which means it
is required of all Muslims. There are certain
exceptions- people who are ill aren’t required to fast
during Ramadhan, and people who are traveling. If the
fasting affects a person’s health in any way (i.e. if
the person is diabetic, or pregnant, etc.), they are
excused from fasting.

Of course, the ‘moral fasting’ comes with the physical
fasting. In other words, a person can break their fast
without using food. Gossiping, fighting, lying,
cheating, angry words and more have to be avoided
during Ramadhan, otherwise your fast, or ‘siyam’ is
considered useless. Prayer and Quran reading are also
stepped-up during the whole of the month because it is
believed to be a ‘blessed month’.

Someone might ask, but why fast? What is the point of
denying yourself food and drink for over half a day?
Fasting is supposed to teach tolerance, patience, and
hunger. Yes, hunger. The average person forgets what
it’s like to be hungry… and I don’t mean the,
wow-I-could-really-use-a-burger-and-some-fries type of
hunger. I mean the hunger you feel when you haven’t
had anything to eat or drink for over 12 hours and
your stomach feels ready to cave in and your head
feels like exploding because you didn’t get that zap
of caffeine you need to function.

The point of being hungry is to help you appreciate
food more. It helps you realize that food and water
shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially when there
are people who feel like this every day regardless of
it being a holy month or otherwise. Many doctors also
believe fasting is healthy, as it often lowers blood
pressure and keeps people from smoking or drinking. I
currently have an uncle who swears he's going to give
up smoking this Ramadhan (like he gave it up last
Ramadhan- and the one before).

We begin preparing for the ‘futtoor’, or the meal with
which we break our fast, over an hour before its time.
Traditionally, most people break their fast on a date,
and then proceed to whatever is on the menu. Often,
people begin the meal with some sort of soup because
it warms the stomach without shocking it after all
those hours without food. The most popular Ramadhan
soup is lentil soup, or ‘addess’. It is a pale, yellow
soup that is both light and flavorful. There are
dozens of different ways to make it, but I enjoy it
with a squeeze of lime and ‘khubz’.

After the soup, comes a whole procession of often
traditional foods… maybe I should post the recipes.
There’s so much food because the ‘futtoor’ is more of
a daily celebration than it is an ordinary meal.
During previous years, we would spend almost every day
breaking our fast with various family or friends. This
year is different because the security situation
doesn’t allow for traipsing around Baghdad or other
provinces on a daily basis. It’s also not the same
because, under normal circumstances, our ‘futtoor’
gatherings often last well into the night, sometimes
past 12 am, before the group breaks up to go home.

The neighbors are often a big part of the month. If
they’re not dropping by to sample futtoor, then
they’re sending over a plate of something for you to
sample. We also get together to agree who will be
sending food over to the local mosque to feed the
mosque keepers and the Imam, and to arrange who will
be sending what to the more destitute families in the
neighborhood. Ramadhan is the time of year when we put
aside neighborhood differences (like the fact that Abu
K.’s dog howls at anyone who goes down the street),
and combine culinary skills and a general feeling of

The most active part of the whole day is the quarter
of an hour directly before breaking the fast… the
whole family is often in a flurry of action, with
someone setting the table, someone carrying the food,
someone giving orders about where to put everything…
and everyone impatient with hunger. The last five
minutes before you hear the call for prayer signifying
the end of the fast are always the most difficult.

Every second of those last five minutes passes with
the heaviness of an hour… you can literally see every
one strain to hear the sound of the call for prayer
echoing through the Baghdad streets. And then it is
finally time for futtoor… and we begin to eat with
relish. The platter of rice that seemed ridiculously
small 15 minutes ago, is now ‘too much’ and no one
eats as much as they had hoped they were going to eat-
everyone is exhausted with simply contemplating the
food, the choices and the possibilities.

After futtoor, the smokers fall upon their cigarettes
with an enthusiasm only other smokers can appreciate.
We watch them taking puff after puff with a
contentment that even screaming kids, and loud
televisions cannot taint.

The rest of the night is spent in eating snacks and
sweets, like baqlawa saturated in syrup, and warm
kunaffa (a cheese sweet). Everyone moves somewhat
slower and the general mood is one of contentment and
joviality (no one can get up the energy to be angry
after a large meal). .. the only thing that can
thoroughly ruin a futtoor is an air strike (like in
1998) or an electricity cut.

Tomorrow we’re expecting to break our fast with an
uncle’s family and one of our neighbors (who are
Christian). Christians don’t fast during Ramadhan, but
they do often join us while breaking the fast and many
refuse to eat and drink in places like college and
school (where eating is allowed) out of solidarity and

And now you’ll excuse me… they’ve just warmed the
kunaffa drenched in a sugar syrup and if I don’t
hurry, there’ll be nothing left for Riverbend…

- posted by river @ 12:20 AM

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