The month of Ramadan is the one in which the Qur’an was sent down – right Guidance to mankind, and clear signs of Guidance and Distinction of truth from falsehood.
Ayah 185, Sura 2 (Al-Baqara), translation by Tarif Khalidi
This week we will deviate from our custom: instead of discussing food, we will talk about no-food, about the fast of Ramadan. This week our field foreman Mohammed will leave us for the entire month of August, while he observes the month of Ramadan which began on August 1st. On Sunday we discussed this important and unique month, which coincides this year to the months of August and Av, and is equally as scorching hot. Because of the oppressive heat, many Muslims who usually work during Ramadan have decided to give up work this year (or work very little), focusing instead upon the fast and the internalizing it demands.
Ramadan occurs during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. Every year, at the end of the eighth month, Shaban, the Muslims seek the moon. The beginning of Ramadan is determined by a proclamation under oath by Muslim men of faith who have the duty of sighting the moon. Here in Israel and Palestine, the decision comes from Saudi Arabia. This year it was unclear whether the fast begins Sunday or Monday, but at 9:00 PM Saturday night, the verdict fell upon Monday. This is a great responsibility for the scholars who must determine the exact time of the month’s commencement. For me, there is something captivating in the fact that this process, this decision, is so connected to nature, to the moon, and the outdoors. Although astronomical-mathematic calculations can certainly be made to precisely predict the beginning of the month, this decision is still determined by looking up and making “eye contact” with the heavenly objects.
“I remember that when Ramadan fell in the heat of summer, I was a little boy,” Mohammed reminisced, and he is right. The last time Ramadan met August was about 33 years ago – because every year Ramadan shifts 11 days back. The Muslim year is determined by the moon, and the Christian year by the sun. The Hebrew year has a solution to this gap in the form of an additional month of Adar that closes the breech, but the Muslim year shifts through the seasons. A fast in the heat of summer sounds crazy, but in truth the name Ramadan comes from an Arabic root close to the Hebrew word “remetz” – a burning ash. Apparently in ancient times, when the Arab calendar included a leap year, Ramadan always took place during summer.
And it makes so much sense, or used to make sense: the agricultural summer in Israel is really a time of intermission. In Chubeza’s field, we too are feeling our work lessening– the winter squash and onion are stored, the cucumbers, zucchini and fakus have completed their seasons, and our planting will only begin in a few weeks. In the meantime, we are trying to diminish ourselves as much as possible, minimizing under the great heat, looking inward. This is also a time where we feel how much we are subject to a larger force (be it nature, God, the cosmos…) whose power of heat is being felt at this time. And this is precisely the meaning of Ramadan. When this month occurs during summertime, the farmer can take a break for the month, look inward, grow closer to God, practice modesty and restraint, ask for forgiveness and perform charitable acts.
The most well-known custom of Ramadan is, of course, the fast. Mohammed explains that children begin fasting from age seven, and a ten-year-old is already expected to observe the entire fast which begins at sunrise and ends at sunset, i.e., during the daylight hours. As the Koran states, “…eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct to you from the black thread of the dawn. Then strictly observe the fast until nightfall…” [Sûrah ahl-Baqarah: 187]. In the morning, the Suhoor is eaten before fasting. Mohammed notes that this is a small meal, consisting of some bread and cheese. During the day, they do not eat or drink, one very difficult task in these hot months.
The fast itself is of no benefit, as it only brings about hunger and thirst. The real advantage of the fast is only if man “fasts” in his soul, abstaining from bad thoughts and deeds. Similar to the Jewish Yom Kippur, the Ramadan fast expresses repentance for sins and the attempt to atone for them. Other than food and drink, smoking and sexual intercourse are prohibited as well, prohibitions that require overcoming physical needs. Muslims who do not fast during Ramadan will eat in private, so as not to offend anyone. The month of Ramadan is one of identifying with society’s poor and downtrodden, with special attention paid to the mentally challenged. In the past, narrators with soft voices were invited to read to them from the Koran. Till now, some of the prayer callers at the mosques intone pleas to ease the insomnia of the mentally ill and to lessen their sufferings.
A month-long fast during the peak of summer is not an easy task, and becomes even worse when the tumult of cooking begins in the early afternoon. How does one continue fasting, surrounded by the hearty aromas of food? I get hungry just imagining it. Mohammed smiles in agreement. It sure smells good, and he wonders how even without tasting, his wife knows exactly how much salt to add, by smell. She never fails to season the food perfectly, Mohammed boasts, singing her praises as always.
This cooking is done in preparation for the Iftar, the meal ending the fast, where the extended family and sometimes friends and neighbors all gather for a common meal consisting of meat and cooked dishes. The squash Mohammed seeded in his garden, blooming now, will ripen in time to grace this year’s Ramadan evening soups. Usually the meal begins with dates and other sweets, and ends with a sweet desert. The nights of Ramadan offer a break from the solemnity of daytime. In many cities, this is when cultural events and other entertainment take place in the streets. The streets are decorated and lit, and special nocturnal sweets are sold. For those who are interested, here is a nice Hebrew-language description of the month of Ramadan in Jerusalem (that year Ramadan occurred in the month of January, small difference…), and another beautiful presentation of prayer and food.
As mentioned, the Koran attributes the month of Ramadan to be the time when the holy verses of the Koran descended to Mohammed. Muslim tradition expands upon this and tells how at the end of the month the angel Jibril (Gabriel) first revealed himself to Mohammed and brought him the verses known today as Sūrat al-ʿAlaq. The revelation of the angel Jibril is celebrated on one of the final nights of the month, called Laylat al-Qadr (the night of destiny), “better than one thousand months.” (Sura 97 verse 3) Some believe that on this night, the skies are always free of clouds, the weather is good, and at this time a (temporary) peace prevails worldwide: this is a night with no bloodshed, no rape, no theft or any other evil. It is a grand time to make wishes. A wish made on this night is bound to be fulfilled.
Ramadan Karim (a good Ramadan), Kul ‘am wa antum bikhair (every year may you be well), kul senaa wa antum taebeen (every year in blessing and welfare), and to our colleague Mohammed, may your fast be accepted.
Mohammed, Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team
What’s in this Week’s Boxes?
Monday: Okra or yard-long beans or cowpea (lubia), onions , nana (mint), potatoes , melon, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkin, sweet red peppers, cherry tomatoes, small boxes only: eggplant
In the large box, in addition: corn, scallions or leeks, oregano, spaghetti squash
Wednesday: lettuce, okra or yard-long beans or cowpea (lubia) or edamame (green soy), cucumbers, parsley or cilantro, tomatoes, onions, leek, pumpkin, corn, red pepper, small boxes only – cherry tomatoes.
In the large box, in addition: eggplant or potatoes, spaghetti squash, melon, oregano
And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers of these organic products: granola and cookies, flour, sprouts, goat dairies, fruits, honey, crackers, probiotic foods and sesame butter too! You can learn more about each producer on the Chubeza website. The attached order form includes a detailed listing of the products and their cost. Fill it out, and send it back to us soon.