Monday, September 17, 2007

The meaning of Ramdan for Muslims

The month of Ramadan, which started last week, is perhaps the most celebrated event in a Muslim calendar year. To think of the significance of Ramadan and what it means to hundreds of millions of Muslims across the globe, American Christians might think of the significance of Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays combined, and then extended for thirty days. Then add another 5-day holiday immediately afterwards to celebrate the “breaking of the fast.” Combining its religious and social cultural significance, Ramadan for Muslims, is an everyday Thanksgiving and an everyday Christmas, that lasts thirty days.

Ramadan, however, first and foremost, is a religious month. Muslims believe that God (in Arabic, Allah) revealed the Quran to the Prophet Mohammad during this month. To recognize this event, it is marked by abstaining from all food and drink from sunrise until sunset accompanied by devoted worship and reciting the Quran.

Though the religious principle of fasting is found in all major religions, in Islam, however, it is for an extended period of time. Muslims are actually required to do more than just abstain from food and drink, or at least that’s the way it is supposed to be for all Muslims. But, of course, some people, like me for example, think of nothing else but food all day, just as many Christians might only think of food at Thanksgiving, rather than the historical significance of the holiday, or only on presents at Christmas time.

My Ramadan days normally consists of imagining how will I devour all kind of foods, and which deserts I will eat first. I am always looking at my watch, calculating when will I start eating!

A good Muslim, however, ought to take the month of Ramadan as an opportunity to purify his soul and body and devote an entire month to worship God and contemplate faith. Food deprivation, during the day, is supposed to make Muslims think of others who are less fortunate than they are, thus putting the rich on equal plane with the wretched. It is essential therefore that fasting should not just become about only food deprivation, but should rather be accompanied by deep commitment to faith, to moral Islamic goodness, and to the well being of the community.

Because Muslims are supposed to abstain from food and drink from sunrise until sunset, work activities become less, and people tend to work less during the day. I personally could hardly think of work while I am thinking of what am I going to eat in the evening.

One might argue that economic activities during day time might tend to slow down during this month, especially in the Islamic World. That’s true, but other economic activities associated with the Ramadan season seems to promote a boom in trade and business. People stock up on food items such as rice and meat during the day, for example, in order to prepare elaborate dinners at night after the fast is broken. Thinking of food all day, like me, they will tend to over eat.

This dynamic has shifted main economic activities and trade from daytime, were people are less energetic due to not eating or drinking, into the nighttime. Nightlife during Ramadan, therefore, becomes colorful and restaurants get decorated and filled with those who decided to break their fast by eating out.

So most of activities during Ramadan occur during the evening hours where it has evolved to become distinct culture for the whole month. As a result, Ramadan days and night have their own special foods, drinks, sweets, candy and even its own television shows.

In Egypt for example, Ramadan is observed in every aspect of life, Mosques are filled with praying and devote believers well into the night, Quran is recited extensively. At the same time, the city of Cairo takes a colorful approach and it becomes a beautiful panoramic city. Cairo’s streets are decorated with ribbons and colorful candle-lit-lanterns called “Fawanees” which are hung on the streets and around the houses to mark the special occasion. Other Egyptian cities might hang one big “Fanoos” (singular of Fawanees). For Egyptians, hanging Fawanees is a thousand years old Ramadan tradition that started during the rule of the Fatimied State which ruled Egypt more than ten centuries ago.

During Ramadan, Muslim families gather around for elaborate meals and specially prepared foods consisting of beef, lamp, rice, chicken and sweets, and sweetened drinks. This tradition, of course, fosters and strengthen familial ties, as families invite each other for dinner to break the fast, called “Iftar.” This togetherness, religiously encouraged, as a result, bring family members to become closer to each other as they share a meals every evening with each others or neighbors and other relatives.

The month of Ramadan also ushers in its own TV shows. Arab countries and TV production companies compete with each other to produce the best Ramadan shows vying for the most viewers for shows of drama, comedies and children shows.

After the fasting month is over, Muslims would celebrate the end of Ramadan and breaking the fast with a 5-day holiday called “Eid el-Fitr” which starts with “Salat el Eid,” which is the “Holiday Prayer.” Children put on their best clothes and receive gifts from adults. Families visit each other.

As for me, the end of Ramadan will mark starting a crash diet to shed some of the pounds I put during my thirty day long fasting!

Copy rights Arab writers group syndicate.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Another Take, September 11

Published by the Chicago Daily SouthTown,091007anothertakealarabi.article

Another Take

September 10, 2007

Sept. 11 is perhaps the single most important factor that has changed and shaped the American peoples' views and opinions - as well as prejudices - when it comes to the Middle East, Arabs and Muslims.

The war in Iraq was made possible as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy in which the victims of this terrorist act were exploited in the battle cry to launch and execute a war on a country that had committed no act of war or act of terrorism against the United States.

Iraq, ruled by Saddam Hussein, had no ties to the international terror network of al-Qaida. There were no terrorists present on Iraqi soil except in northern Iraq, which was a Kurdish-controlled territory and where the notorious terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi initially was based.

Though Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant and a criminal by all accounts, from an American perspective, and as far as American interests were concerned - he was not a threat to the United States nor to American citizens either at home or abroad.

So what are the factors that made it possible for the Bush administration to be able to convince half of the American people to accept its reasons to invade a foreign country that has done them no harm?

Those who populated and operated the halls of power in Washington were able to create an illusion of a connection between Osama bin Laden and his terrorist organization and Iraq, which happened to be an Arab and Muslim country. With the help of a cowed media, the administration was able to weave support for the war by tapping into an under-current of racist and bigoted views of Muslims and Arabs.

Americans, in general, are conditioned by popular culture to view Arabs and Muslims suspiciously and as the enemy.

Some Americans were motivated by their fundamentalist and apocalyptic religious views, which are pro-Israel and anti-Arab, while others were consumed by their desire for bloody revenge in a sense that so long as the person at the receiving end of the blows is an Arab and/or a Muslim, it matters not where or who or when we strike.

In the meantime, well-meaning Americans were led to believe that invading Iraq and ravaging the entire country would somehow be equivalent to extracting revenge and, by extension, a measure of justice for what occured on Sept. 11. This, of course, is far from the truth. We now know, thanks to many official investigations into this matter, that neither Iraq nor Saddam Hussein had anything to do with Sept. 11 or al-Qaida terrorism.

On the contrary, this war has transformed Iraq into al-Qaida's main base of operation and its proving ground and in the process has gifted the country to Iran through Iraq's corrupt Shia leadership and its "holy" Ayatollahs.

The nearly 3,000 victims of Sept. 11 were used, immorally and shamelessly, to the advantage of those who planned for this war. The victims' murders have been exploited to justify the psychological connection between the state of Iraq and bin Laden's terrorism. The terrorism of Sept. 11 and the victims have become a convenient justification to wage war, a justification we only recently learned has nothing to do with terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, Sept. 11 or even democracy or freedom.

Despite what now are discredited objectives of the war, much of the support for the war continues to come from certain segments of American society that view Iraq and other Muslim and Arab nations as an "enemy" that deserves to be punched back, just as bin Laden did to America on Sept. 11.

Never mind, however, that bin Laden, Zarqawi and al-Qaida have collectively killed more Arabs and Muslims than Americans. Yet, the supporters of this war still desire to punish all Arabs and all Muslims simply because bin Laden is an Arab and a Muslim. Fueling this racist attitude toward everything Arab and everything Muslim is popular culture and the constant badgering of Arab Americans and Muslim Americans on TV and in the mainstream media by racist commentators and writers.

On this sixth anniversary of this tragic event, we should realize and remember that Sept. 11 was neither a spontaneous act nor an act that occurred in a vacuum. Those who killed Americans did not wake up one day thinking we should kill Americans; men are not born terrorists or suicide bombers.

We need to address the underlying reasons and circumstances that created a fertile ground for the evil of terrorism to take root. America should honor its victims by bringing those who were responsible for this crime to justice and embark instead on a self-critical examination of its bad policies in the Middle East rather than continue to punish the innocent in order to satisfy a nation's thirst for vengeance.

Ali Alarabi, of Chicago, is managing editor of The Arab Desk at He can be reached at Copyright Arab Writers Group Syndicate.