Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Quran during this month and so it is the holiest time in the Muslim faith.
The primary practice of Ramadan is fasting, one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Healthy, observant adults refrain from eating and drinking (also smoking, gum chewing, sex, cursing and any less-than-upstanding behavior) from dawn to sunset. The idea is to enter a more spiritual way of being, to know gratitude, compassion and self-discipline. More prayer and more charity are also part of Ramadan observance.
Non-Muslims traveling to a Muslim country during Ramadan should avoid eating and drinking in public out of respect. (In some countries it is illegal for anyone, even visitors, to eat in public during Ramadan.) Many restaurants will be closed during the day but those in tourist areas and hotels usually keep their regular hours. In the evening, the streets fill up with people going to meet friends and EAT! It’s quite festive and maybe a bit overwhelming for outsiders.
While fasting is meant to be only the physical manifestation of the spiritual work of Ramadan, a natural, human response to the absence of food is to become food obsessed. During the daylight hours, a lot of time is spent planning for and preparing the evening meal. Social media is flooded with recommended recipes and photos of Iftar tables heaped with blessed, steaming food; photos that must feel rather sadistic when viewed on an empty stomach a few hours later, while surfing for new recipes to fill the next Iftar table, and so on and so on for 30 days.
Traditionally, the daily fast is broken with dates, followed by happy, social feasting. Foods eaten during Ramadan vary widely but there seems to be an emphasis on desserts. The feast to end all feasts, until next year, happens on Eid al-fitr, the first day of the month of Shawwal, and thus the end of Ramadan.
This year Google has a landing page dedicated to Ramadan, with links to Ramadan related content from around the world, including, of course, lots of cooking lessons and a page just for posting Iftar pictures. There’s also a link there to a livestream from the Grand Mosque at Mecca, Islam’s holiest site and off-limits to non-Muslims. It’s quite moving to watch the thousands of pilgrims slowly circling the sacred Kaabah while the prayer is sung out over the crowd.
To wish someone a bountiful Ramadan, say “Ramadan Kareem!”