A couple of nights ago I woke up at 2 am to the sound of a man banging a drum and shouting in the street. I had been warned that Beirut could be a crazy place with an unusual nightlife. But somehow this seemed completely out of the ordinary. After asking around I found out that in some ways it is and in some ways it isn’t.
The object of all the drum banging and shouting was to wake up people and remind them to eat and drink. We’re in the middle of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and the month where Muslims are supposed to fast from food, drinking and sexual activity between sunrise and sunset.
Not that the drum banging was the first indication that Ramadan had come. The fact that about two out of three shops in the street where I live were closed was a pretty good sign. And the decorations being put up different places in Beirut was another symbol of what was about to come. Of course, these are all things I noticed because I live in West Beirut. My friends living in East had absolutely no idea that Ramadan had arrived.
Like so many other people, I pick my own way of observing my religion. I drink alcohol, but don’t eat pork. My clothes are in no way demure (to say the least) and I had a Danish boyfriend for 10 years with all that that entails. At the same time I try to fast when Ramadan comes along. So I was looking forward to experiencing the month of fasting in a (semi) Muslim country.
Half way in I have to admit there isn’t a big difference. Apart from the fact that Beirut is in the middle of a heat wave bringing temperatures close to 40 degrees and everything is just a bit quieter in my neighborhood. But so far I still haven’t met one single other person who fasts. On the contrary, many people are shocked to hear that I am going without food and water. Some are just surprised that I’m Muslim (note the clothes). But a (to me) surprisingly large number of people admit to being Muslim, but never fasting.
Which I think is a bit of a shame. Not from a religious point of view. People can live with or without their religion in any way for all I care. But I had really been hoping to experience a traditional iftar (the breaking of the fast) in a Muslim family in a (semi) Muslim country. I have heard the most amazing stories about all the food and sweets that are put on the table every night, making Ramadan seem like a month-long Christmas celebration. And I was hoping to somehow get myself invited to such a meal. But so far it seems that Ramadan is just like any other month for Christians and Muslims alike.
Which also has me thinking a bit about the big feast that comes after Ramadan, Eid el Fitr. This is a three-day celebration marking the end of Ramadan. It has a bit of a Christmas feel to it, children get presents and money, people visit each other and just eat, eat, eat. But now I’m wondering if there will be any kind of celebration at all? And also, I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s actually a good thing if there isn’t.
My family in Denmark has a small tradition around Eid. My mother cooks Molokhieh (a traditional soup kind of thing very common in Egypt, Lebanon and the Palestinian areas) and I buy my niece and nephew new clothes. It’s not the crazy blow out party that some of my Muslim friends have, but it’s nice. But now I have absolutely no idea where I’ll be or with whom when Eid arrives. And maybe that won’t matter so much if I feel like it’s just any other day for everyone else. But if I get a sense that celebrations are going on all around me that will very quickly change.
And so ironically enough it may very well be a Muslim holiday in a (semi) Muslim country that for the first time makes me long to be back in Denmark.