The feast after the fast

This evening begins the Muslim month of Ramadan.  It’s a season of fasting during daylight hours, sharing pre-dawn and post-dusk meals with family and friends, spiritual reflection, and giving donations for the poor.  There are nearly 2,000,000,000 (two billion) Muslims in the world, about ¼ of humanity.  Columbus’ large Somali population are among those observing Ramadan locally. 

Because the Islamic calendar is based on the moon, Ramadan floats around the seasons.

In 2000 Ramadan happened in December.  It coincided with a semester of study in the Middle East during my senior year of college.  We were based mostly in Cairo, Egypt, but concluded our time visiting different countries, ending in Turkey. 

I have a distinct memory of a homestay there where the household was observing Ramadan.  The supper table had been set for the family and us, their guests.  Food was steaming and the smells wafted through the house as the daylight started to fade.  But the public signal hadn’t yet been given for the day’s fast to be broken.  We quietly sat around the table together, unable to communicate much through the language barrier, simply waiting.  When the signal sounded throughout the city, our host father gave an audible sigh of relief as he beckoned us all to dig in. 

I think it was that big sigh that etched the evening into my memory.  It contained multitudes: relief, accomplishment, hunger, gratitude, the arrival of a well-prepared feast with foreign guests amidst a society-wide age-old practice.

This year the Ramadan fast coincides with the latter part of Christian Lent, also a traditional season of fasting.  Two traditions, two collective pilgrimages walk paths that are both similar and unique.