As you know, we never write about our private life on the blog. That’s the rule we have. Travelling is travelling and we share with you other topics only if we feel it doesn’t violate our privacy. However, I wanted to tell you how Ramadan looks like, how it’s celebrated in Egypt and how we celebrate it now in Poland. It’s an incredible time.
I’ve seen Ramadan being celebrated 6 times already. For the first time, I heard about it earlier but I was in Poland and my future husband in UK. So, I knew everything only from the stories. One year later, I spent whole Ramadan in Egypt and this year it’s the fifth time we are spending it in Poland.
- 1 What is Ramadan?
- 2 Ramadan in Egypt
- 3 Our Ramadan in Poland
- 4 Summary
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. For the Muslims, it’s a holy month because the revelation of the Quran that month. During Ramadan, Muslims fast since dawn until sunset. Fasting (صوم, saum) is one of five Pillars of Islam. For us, such long time of fasting seems to be very difficult, but Muslims love that time and they wait for it for a whole year. It’s as important to them as Christmas is to us, Christians.
What is the fasting about?
We mostly associate Ramadan with fasting from dawn till sunset, no eating and no drinking during the daylight. Nerethless, this is not the only thing Muslims cannot do. They have to abstain themselves from addictions like smoking. It’s also prohibited to engage in sexual relations. During days of fasting, Muslims eat two meals a day: iftar, the first meal after the sunset and suhur a meal after which a new day of fasting starts.
When does Ramadan start?
As I’ve already mentioned, Ramadan is a month of Islamic calendar which is a lunar calendar. So, Ramadan starts and ends every year on different day than the previous year. Because of the fact that everything depends on the phases of the moon, the date of the first day of fasting is announced few days earlier. Sometimes there is one day difference between the beginning of Ramadan in different countries. This year in Poland, the first day was on the 16th of May and it will last until the 14th of June.
Also the fasting hours depends on the place where you live. In Poland, during the first days of Ramadan iftar started at 8:30 p.m. and the fasting used to start at 2:30 a.m. The hours change every day because the sunset now happens later and the dawn is earlier. Fasting in Poland takes around 18 hours per day. On the other hand, in Egypt the day is shorter and the fasting is from around 3:40 a.m. until 6:50 p.m., more or less 15 hours.
Does everyone have to fast?
For Muslims, fasting is something obvious and natural. However, not everyone has to do it. It’s not obligatory for those suffering from an illness, elder people, pregnant women, children, women during menstruation, women breastfeeding and people who are travelling. It someone stops fasting for few days, for example because of travelling, after the end of Ramadan they can extend the fasting to “make this time up”. Of course, if they are healthy enough to fast.
Is Ramadan only about fasting?
Fasting is the first thing that comes to our minds when we think of Ramadan. That’s only part of it. This month is a time of intensification of prayer; it has an important moral meaning. It’s the time of sacrifice, overcoming our own weaknesses, getting closer to God and becoming a better person. Fasting for a whole day is supposed to remind people to appreciate what they have because there are people among us who live in poverty and they go hungry not only during one month per year. So during this time, Muslims spend more money on charity (زكاة, zakat) to feed those in need. Zakat is next to the fasting one of the pillars of islam.
Ramadan in Egypt
Few years ago I spent a whole month of Ramadan in Egypt, in Port Said which is the hometown of my husband. Back then, it was in July so the temperature was higher than 40°C. I was so surprised to see that people last for so many hours not without food (because with that temperature, I wasn’t hungry at all) but without drinking water. For me, that would be impossible. You have to know that in Port Said there are no buses with air-conditioning and not many taxis have this luxury and somehow you have to move in the city, get to work or to school.
What I really loved before the beginning of Ramadan were the preparations. You can see them in Egypt even a month earlier. I had a chance to see it 5 years ago but also last year when we went to Post Said at the beginning of May, less than a month before Ramadan started. Everywhere you can buy fanus, lanterns of different type, they are made of wood, plastic and very colorful. Many Muslims prepare decorations for Ramadan. They cut them from colored pieces of paper and hang in their houses.
Changing the lifestyle
Egyptians often can change their working hours during Ramadan. Then they sleep longer and finish work right before iftar. However, the idea of Ramadan is not to live according to the fasting hours but completing your duties as you do every day and despite that, keep fasting. How is it possible? That’s the willpower and faith of those who decide to celebrate the holy month.
Meeting the family and helping the poor
The common thing for all Muslim countries is that the streets are empty right before iftar. Everyone goes home to have their meal with family. That’s why Ramadan reminds my Christmas so much. People finally have time to see their loved ones, neighbors, and friends. They eat together and later spend time talking. After the sunset, cities come back to life. Families go out to have walk. In Port Said beaches and the places around Suez Canal become crowded.
Another beautiful aspect of Ramadan is helping the poor. I’ve already mentioned that charity is one of the pillars of Islam and an integral part of the month of fasting. In Egypt it’s common to buy food for the poor, share prepared meals with those in need and having iftar together. Very often, iftar is organized in mosques; people bring the food and give to those who cannot afford it. That’s the beauty of the holy month.
The best food can be tasted during Ramadan. Special sweets and even bread, which you cannot find in other months of the year, are prepared for fasting days. You have to know that my mother-in-law is a master of cooking Egyptian food and during Ramadan she makes even more incredible stuff. The best mahshi, seafood or baba ghanoush made by her is a feast for the palate. That’s one of the reasons why I like this time in Egypt.
Ramadan in my Egyptian home, did I have to fast?
You are probably wondering how I spent the whole month with a family who fast and if I had to fast too? Of course I didn’t have to. There is no “must” in my family. Every day we used to go to my husband’s home to have iftar together. His sibling, aunts, uncles, cousins were coming… We used to spend this time with family. Nobody expected me to fast and I didn’t even plan to do that. Everyone around me knew about it and nobody has ever said anything.
I will tell you more. Sometimes we spent a whole day with our Egyptian family and my husband and mother-in-law used to prepare breakfast and lunch for me, so I am not hungry for the whole day. At first, I felt bad that I was eating while they couldn’t but once I said it out loud, they laughed and explained to me that they were used to fasting and they don’t do it as a punishment, they want to fast. So, in the morning I had breakfast, during the day I ate something light so later in the evening I could have iftar with family. I loved the family atmosphere and I can’t imagine not taking part in it when I was so close.
Another thing I liked in my Egyptian home is the fact that they don’t eat much for suhur. The last meal before the dawn is not to make their stomachs full for the whole day so they don’t feel hungry at all. You know, the idea of fasting is not to use few hours between sunset and dawn to eat non-stop.
The other side of the coin
In Ramadan time I often read that it’s a very two-faced time, that Muslims fast but when nobody is looking they eat and drink, that they suddenly remember to go to the mosque although they do it on a daily basis. I’m not going to negate that or convince anyone that it’s not like that. After all, I don’t know all the Muslims in the world to say what all of them do. But don’t we do the same in Poland? How many people go to the church when it’s Christmas and they never do it on Sundays? Let’s look at ourselves, before we throw a stone on someone else.
It’s obvious that not all Muslims will celebrate Ramadan as they should. Nevertheless, I know that for my Egyptian family and friends, Ramadan is a very important time. They wait for it for a whole year, prepare food for the poor and enjoy their time together. That’s why I am happy that I met people and Muslims like that in Egypt.
I am travelling to a Muslim country during Ramadan, how should I behave?
You often ask us how to behave if you are on holiday in Egypt during Ramadan. Do you have to watch out for something? Is it really prohibited to eat or drink in public places? So, here is the answer. You are not going to roam around the city with a plate full of food to show “Hey, I’m eating and you are not”. It’s not right. Just be reasonable. You shouldn’t offer food or drinks to a person who is fasting. Also, you should keep in mind that some restaurants or shops may be closed during the day or have different working hours. On the other hand, after the sunset restaurants and streets will be full of people. In tourist places you won’t have any problems with finding a place for lunch.
How should you behave? First of all, wisely. Don’t flaunt your food or drinks but you don’t have to hide to eat. You can go to any open restaurant to have dinner. Egypt is very tolerant in this matter. Firstly, because there are a lot of tourists and secondly, remember that there are few millions of Christians who don’t celebrate Ramadan. Egyptians are used to the fact that not everyone fasts. If you ever hear any negative comment about eating or drinking in Ramadan when you are in Egypt, for sure it will be said by a person who feels insecure with his/her strong will and is afraid of not being able to keep fasting. People, who are convinced of fasting, don’t make a problem out of the fact that someone next to them is eating.
Our Ramadan in Poland
It’s the fifth Ramdan in a row that we spend in Poland. For sure, it’s not easy to fast here. On one hand, the temperatures are lower than in Egypt but on the other and, fasting takes few more hours during a day. It’s hard to say where it’s easier to fast. Even if someone wanted, here it’s impossible to change working hours to adjust them to fasting. You just live normally but without food or drinks in daylight. During the first Ramadan we spent in Poland, I couldn’t believe how my husband does it and manages to fast. Back then, he used to play football in a local club and he trained in Ramadan! It was unthinkable to me. If I hadn’t seen that myself, I probably wouldn’t have believed that you can live like that.
I am used to it
Mohamed has always told me that for him it’s natural to fast. In Egypt he trained hockey and during Ramadan he played matches and trained. Here he does exactly the same. For him fasting is something obvious, he says that after so many years he is used to it. Always the first few days are the most difficult ones and he is tired. He starts work early in the morning, finishes in the afternoon, comes home and starts preparing food. However, he quickly adjusts and after few days he stops feeling very hungry. He lives normally and does the same things as when he is not fasting.
Polish Egyptian Ramadan
I always say that the most natural thing in our Polish Egyptian life is to celebrate our feast days together. The same as we celebrate Christmas, we also celebrate Ramadan. We participate in each other’s feasts as long as we feel good about it. If it comes to Ramadan, I don’t fast. I tried once for one day. Actually, I was curious if it’s even possible not to eat nor drink anything. It was last year. I work in an office with air-conditioning so the time I spent at work wasn’t a big challenge. I made it. And I saw that it’s possible if you want to do it. Nevertheless, I don’t see a reason to fast. I know that I wouldn’t make it for longer and apart from that, I don’t feel I need it.
How do I participate in Ramadan?
For us it’s time we try to spend together. Despite many obligations I always try to be back home on time to have iftar together. If I have already eaten, I just accompany my husband so he doesn’t eat alone. We also cook more together. The truth is that usually Mohamed is the one who cooks more. We try to share the cooing and change but he still does it more often and much better than me. During Ramadan, I try to cook more or at least help. We make more Egyptian recipes and Egyptian desserts too. It’s delicious!
I often read that in mixed relationships, the person who fasts is irritated and nervous because of that and doesn’t let anyone around them to eat nor drink. Then I start thinking if we are strange or other people are just exaggerating. My husband has never behaved differently during Ramadan. As he says, what kind of fasting would it be if instead of overcoming his weakness, he was taking it out on people around him, just because they don’t fast? Our days are so normal. On the weekends when we have more time because we don’t need to go to work, I always get breakfast and coffee in bed. It’s prepared by a husband who fasts.
Travelling in Ramadan
Five years ago we got married during Ramadan. It required travelling to Cairo several times. You can imagine the temperature of 40°C, a bus without air-conditioning and you can’t drink water. Although as I’ve said at the beginning, people who travel are not obliged to fast, Mohamed doesn’t like to stop fasting. Travelling is not a reason for him to break the fast. Four years ago we bought plane tickets to Milano and few weeks later we realized that our trip will be in the first days of Ramadan. Of course, we didn’t cancel it. We went to Italy and we had a great time. The only thing we had to take care of was making sure that we prepare food for a specific hour and we eat something proper. So, it’s possible to travel and fast in Ramadan.
But if we don’t have to, we don’t travel during fasting month. While travelling, we spend time actively, sightseeing takes us more than ten hours a day and it’s very tiring even if we both eat normally. When one of us doesn’t eat for a whole day, it’s becoming harder. We rather use this month to rest at home and travel later. After all, it’s just a month.
Ramadan is a beautiful month. Until now I remember spending this time in Egypt where I could observe how the holy month looks like. If you are travelling to Egypt or any other country with Muslim population in Ramadan, I already feel jealous. It’s an amazing cultural experience to see how the holy month is celebrated. If you have Muslim friends and you can have iftar with them, use this opportunity. Food tastes better if you share it with someone and at the same time, you can learn something new and try some Ramadan special food.
What can you wish Muslims for Ramadan
If you are thinking what to wish Muslims at the beginning of Ramadan, I will give you a tip. Usually we just say Happy Ramadan. In Arabic we wish Ramadan Mubarak (literally “Blessed Ramadan”) or Ramadan Karim (literally “Generous Ramdan” or “may Ramadan be generous to you”).