05/09/2008

Ramadan Kareem !

The Muslims began on Monday the month of Ramadan (on Sunday in Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday in Iran). Month of fasting, deprivation, inner thoughts, spiritual depth, tightening of family ties, it is a very special period for the community of Muslims. But talking about the community Muslims consists in addressing very different realities. To illustrate this, let’s take two different contexts of Ramadan and compare them.

Let’s first go to Cairo. Despite a large Coptic minority, Egypt is Muslim and you feel it. In Cairo Ramadan is binding the entire society. During the day, the streets are empty, the cafes are closed, the pace slows, and the people care for others, solidarity is more palpable. When the time of iftar approaches, life starts again: shops, restaurants, cafes, streets are filled waiting the appeal of the muezzin. Allah Akbar and it’s the fast’s breaking! Everyone lives it with friends or family, while feeling a certain communion with the whole area or even with the city. In the evening, people from Cairo go out late in the streets, participate in cultural events and celebrate together the past day.

Described like that, it is true that we would tend to believe that this period is easy. But this would be forgetting that Egypt suffers these days an unprecedented economic crisis, and Ramadan is exacerbating price increase. Moreover, when Ramadan takes place in summer, as this year, days are not only hot, but also very long.

In Brussels, the context of Ramadan is almost the reverse. Even if the days are long, they are often not hot. The economic conditions are better than Egypt. But yet, there are other difficulties that Muslims face in Brussels. They are a minority and they have to live Ramadan in a society where this is not the main concern. Nobody will look crosswind one who’s eating a sandwich in the street during this period, and few are those who care to pay attention to the presence of a Muslim. As the pace, it is not idle and particularly this year, Ramadan is the resumption of activities since it falls in September.

In short, Ramadan reminds us of forgotten values of our Western societies too often guided by individualism and materialism: introspection, spirituality, family, effort, sharing. For that, thank you and Ramadan Kareem!

N.J.O.