Tag Archives: Ramadan

My First Ramadan

Ramadan is the most holiest of holy times for Muslims because it’s the time that the angel Gabriel gave the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.  It’s one of the Five Pillars of Islam.  Devout Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day during the month of Ramadan. (I knew this from earlier visits to the Middle East.)

This year, Ramadan began May 6th when I found myself in Cairo preparing to join a medical convoy to Gaza, and was scheduled to end June 4th (or maybe June 5th depending on the country). Most of my Egyptian family at Pension Roma, my home when I’m in Egypt, are Muslim. They were looking forward to Ramadan.

On the spur of the moment, without much thought or preparation, I decided to join them in their daily fasting. Of course, fasting is only one part of Ramadan; reading the Quran and praying every day is also very important to Muslims during this time. I didn’t plan to read or pray.

ramadan lanterns

So why did I fast?

  • To respect my friends. It felt disrespectful to eat or drink when they couldn’t.
  • To experience the feeling of emptiness and fasting for myself.
  • To challenge myself. Could I abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset for an entire month? (I like challenges.)

What did I learn?

  • For a newbie, fasting is not easy, especially during the first week or two. I experienced headaches, fatigue and very low energy at the beginning. Instead of working on a writing project every afternoon, I napped.
  • Surprisingly, the empty feeling in my stomach felt good. By nature, I’m not a foodie who looks forward to cooking or eating. It’s just another bodily function which I must attend to in order to keep my body healthy. My doctor routinely chides me for my bad diet. During Ramadan, I had a good reason for not eating.
  • Giving up water in the hot Mediterranean climate is something else. I found it very difficult not to drink water when I was thirsty. By mid-afternoon, my mouth and throat felt like cotton. Yech!
  • Appreciating how my internal clock could adjust to the early morning (3 AM) knock on my door to join Yousef and the rest of my Egyptian family for a meal before sunrise. I’ll remember that time together with a special fondness.
  • The best part of Ramadan for me was sharing the pre-dawn meal and later breaking the fast with the Iftar meal at sunset with friends and community.

Iftar gathering in downtown Cairo 2

Every afternoon just before sunset, I walked the streets in my Cairo neighborhood and watched people preparing for their Iftar meal. The fast-food guys rushed by on their scooters delivering orders to shopkeepers. Many people took seats on the sidewalk, patiently waiting for the signal from the Mosque that the official time of sunset had arrived and people could eat.

In a restaurant where I frequently ate, everyone was seated and chatting well before the appointed hour. Suddenly, the entire place would fall silent as everyone started eating in unison. Food takes on a new meaning when you’ve been fasting the entire day.  The Iftar ritual always began the same way — eating a date or two, and drinking water and juice (mango or date juice). Delicious!

Breaking the fast with friends (new and old) reminded me how lucky we are to have the gift of food, and also that millions of children and families around the world are starving because of war and ungodly sanctions that prevent food delivery.  [How can Saudi Arabia hold itself up as a good Muslim country when its actions are directly causing so much death, destruction and starvation to millions of Muslims in Yemen? If I was a practicing Muslim, I would boycott Hajj and Umrah in Mecca until the monarchy in Saudi Arabia aligns its actions with the teachings of the Quran.]

I experienced many, many examples of love and kindness during my first Ramadan. The Cairo shopkeeper (the man in the middle) always asked about my bum leg because he noticed I was limping. Each day he told me he would pray for me, and he encouraged me to pray as well. Then there was the date seller from Aswan (right photo) who introduced me to the most delicious dates I’ve ever tasted. He waved to catch my attention each time I passed, even if I was on the other side of the busy street.

I had the wonderful opportunity to reconnect with very good friends from Gaza now living in the United Arab Emirates, so I decided to spend the last two weeks of Ramadan in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.  

On my arrival we headed straight to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi because the sunset was nearly upon us.  The Mosque prepares Iftar meals for 30,000 people every day during Ramadan. The Mosque and its beautiful surroundings were only surpassed by the superb organizational efforts to provide a feast on such a grand scale. I was speechless.  

Iftar in Abu Dhabi 3

Another day we drove out to the sand dunes where we watched the sun slowly sink in the west and ate our Iftar meal on a blanket under the stars.  Despite the alarm I felt driving out in the middle of nowhere without another soul in sight and no markings or signs anywhere, the serenity and peaceful surroundings was a heavenly experience beyond anything I’ve known in my 65 years.

Iftar in the Sand DunesEid al-Fitr marks the end of the month of Ramadan. It feels like every joyous holiday in the world wrapped up into a single day. We woke before dawn and went over to the small neighborhood mosque in Sharjah where everyone was gathering to say their morning prayers. I stood back and watched.

Eid al-Fitr in Sharjah women praying

Children in their new clothes reminded me of the excitement and anticipation I experienced every Christmas morning as a child. I learned about the Eid tradition in many families of giving their children a little money to spend on sweets and toys. [And I was reminded that many children in Gaza are going without even this little pleasure because life in Gaza is practically unlivable.]

Fasting this Ramadan gave me time to meditate and think. For me, Ramadan is about sharing love with each other and there’s an abundance of love to go around (more than enough for every man, woman and child on this Planet).

Love is love, whether a Muslim, Jew or Christian shares it.  Our world needs much more of it but there are so many examples of people withholding love for the “other”. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Allah – Yahweh – God never intended for any of us to be miserly with our love.

I felt well-loved and cared for during Ramadan. I will always remember my blessings.

 

 

 

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Iftar for Gaza

Ramadan is a holy time for Muslims around the world when they celebrate the moment the Koran was unveiled to Muhammad. It’s a time of fasting, praying and reflection. It’s also a time to forgive and ask for forgiveness, which I find very healing. Whether Muslim or not, the world would be a better place if we followed this instruction.

So I ask forgiveness from friends, family and anyone I have hurt this past year. And I forgive those who have slighted me, hurt me or disappointed me.  A new year and a new beginning.

IFTAR for GAZA

To honor my friends in Gaza and to raise funds for UNRWA-USA, I organized an Iftar in Albuquerque with friends and neighbors. The Iftar is the meal to break the daily fast after sunset.

Laura Stokes and good food

We met at Sahara Restaurant on Central Avenue for delicious food — Basmati rice, falafel, hummous, dolmas, shawarnah, and fattoush salad. As I watched my guests serving themselves, I had a flashback to many of the families in Gaza who served me wonderful meals — too numerous to count.  I wish I could have bridged the miles and shared my Iftar with them.

Samia Assed 3

Samia Assed provided a touching introduction to Ramadan, the significance of the Iftar, and why zakat (donations) is considered a very important part of Islam. She discussed the crisis in Gaza and how difficult life is for many families. Since Trump has decided to reduce the U.S. contribution to UNRWA by 83%, the only lifeline that many Palestinians must rely on for their basic sustenance is in serious danger.

Hence, the reason for my Iftar.

For $150, UNRWA-USA can provide a package providing enough flour, rice, whole milk, oil, chickpeas, lentils and protein-rich sardines to feed a family for the summer. My goal is to raise $1500 to help 10 families in Gaza.  Thanks to generous friends, I’ve raised enough to feed 7 families and will continue reaching out to the community near and far until I meet my goal. Online donations are graciously accepted here.

This was a great chance to network. Laura Stokes announced that PDA will be showing the film Radiance of Resistance,  the story of nonviolent persistence and resistance by the Palestinian people against the theft and occupation of their lands.  This film features the courageous actions of two Palestinian girls, one of whom is now in an Israeli prison.   

June 13, 2018
First Unitarian Church
3701 Carlisle Blvd. NE Albuquerque
5:30 PM MINGLE, 6:00 PM PROGRAM

Thank you friends!   Your hearts and words at the Iftar cheered me and provided me more sustenance than you can ever imagine.

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Iftar in Baltimore

I will never forget walking down that Cairo street one very hot day in August 2011 and passing a cool alleyway with long tables and benches set up in preparation for Iftar.

Ramadan in Cairo

I turned and snapped a picture quickly, a bit embarrassed because I wasn’t really sure whether it was appropriate or not.  I walked back after sundown and saw the benches full of men and boys eating their Iftar meal to break their daily fast during Ramadan.

Street scene during Ramadan

Cairo was absolutely electric in 2011, just months after Mubarak had been ousted.

There was a lot of excitement and hope in the air. Even a non-Arabic speaker like me could feel it and understand.

So today when I think of Ramadan, as a non-Muslim, I think of hope. Ramadan and hope go together.

ramadan lanterns

Despite the hardships and tremendous daily challenges in Gaza, Ramadan is a very special time for many.

The Gaza Strip has been under an illegal blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt for a decade, and unemployment and poverty levels are at record highs. Nearly one million of the 1.3 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza are relying on UNRWA food assistance to meet their basic daily needs.

I’m joining others around the U.S. to show solidarity with my friends in Gaza, and to raise funds to help assist food insecure families in the Gaza Strip.  With $140 UNRWA-USA can provide enough staples to assist a family for 3 months. My goal is to help ten families or $1,400. 

Unfortunately, my Iftar plans in the Baltimore Inner Harbor have changed due to a family crisis that requires my travel out of Maryland.

I’m hoping friends and “friends of friends” will contribute to my fundraising UNRWA-USA page here because the crisis in Gaza is real and deadly serious. Please read Sara Roy’s description of Gaza from her recent trip a few weeks ago here.

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Lora with orphans in Gaza in 2012.

كل عام وأنت بخير

رمضان كريم

 

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#GoingtoGaza – June 2015

Keeping a daily journal of my efforts to return to Gaza helps me retrace my steps. This pilgrimage certainly isn’t easy and my gut tells me the path is just as important as the destination.  For previous months, check out my blog posts: September 2014, October 2014, November 2014, December 2014, January 2015, February 2015, March 2015, April 2015 and May 2015.  What follows are entries for the month of June 2015.

Day #273 – Communicating about hot button issues (religion, politics, Israel-Palestine) is so challenging.  Rethinking my whole approach (especially after reading “The Righteous Mind” by Haidt). Going to write a book review today. Take away message—-we try to convince the “other” person with our rational arguments but the “other” person can’t hear or appreciate rational arguments when his/her opinions originate from intuition. Likewise, our opinions very likely originate from intuition, followed by strategic reasoning. Haidt says that conservatives understand this, but liberals typically don’t. #GoingtoGaza

Ballot-Box

Day #274 – Thinking electoral politics is for the birds!

Fact No. 1 – Palestinians haven’t had an election in 9 years and the old farts in office don’t seem eager to hold another.

Fact No. 2 – Israeli P.M. Netanyahu wins his election by warning Israelis that the “Arabs are coming to the polls in droves” thus proving Israel is a racist state.

Fact No. 3 – Millions of Palestinians living under occupation can’t vote in Israeli elections despite the fact that Israel has so much control over their lives.

Fact No. 4 – Elections in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, NM, USA run like clockwork but the elected officeholders prove like clockwork that they are corruptible or corrupted.

Fact No. 5 – My generation has screwed things up so royally that future generations will feel the full blunt force trauma of our actions, despite having no voice and no voting power.

I agree with Tracy Chapman — We’re Talking About a Revolution. #GoingtoGaza

Day #275 – News from Gaza. Some militants in Gaza fired something (rockets?) into southern Israel today. No fatalities or damage reported. ISIS claimed responsibility. Hamas has been battling ISIS operatives in Gaza. Tonight Israel’s jets scrambled; lots of noise and several air strikes were reported. No fatalities. I’m thinking of the young children who survived last summer’s assault on Gaza that lasted 51 days. While Bruce Jenner commands too many soundbites and photo spreads documenting his “freedom to be himself/herself” — these Palestinian children have no freedoms and can’t just be innocent kids. What a screwed up universe. #GoingtoGaza

Day #274 – Watching “activists” on FB and Twitter, I’m struck with our ineffectual communication skills. (I include myself.)

1) Some activists refuse to have an exchange with anyone who disagrees with them. “Unfriend” option is so childish.

2) Some activists prefer to lecture or “educate” but are clueless about what others think.

3) Some activists really believe that meaningful change can occur via social media alone, and it sounds like they are stuck on their divans.

Here’s a book I hope activists will pick up. If we want to change the status quo, which I presume we all do, we have to understand the other side. The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt (2012)  #GoingtoGaza

Day #275 – On this day in 1967, Israel launched an attack against Egypt, known today as the Six Day War but to the Palestinians as the Naksah. I wonder how many of my American friends know about the attack on the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967. #GoingtoGaza

Day #276 – Here is a good account of the difficulties traveling across the Rafah Border from Egypt to Gaza, written in 3 parts. Part 1  –  Part 2  –  Part 3  Very discouraging!  #GoingtoGaza

zivotfsky-2-300x225

Days #277 – 278 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Zivotofsky family and said they will not get “Israel” marked as the place of birth on their son’s passport. Kennedy’s opinion said that the President has the sole responsibility for recognizing a sovereign nation. Time for Obama to recognize the State of Palestine. #GoingtoGaza

Day #279 – “Confirmation bias” … a new phrase that a psychologist-friend recently taught me. Confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. I clearly see it among pro-Israeli activists, pro-Palestinian activists, and with greater scrutiny, I can now see it with myself. We want to find the “facts” to support our world view, and we disregard facts that may negate our world view.  This is very interesting stuff….   #GoingtoGaza

Day #280 – Feeling very pleased that over 600 letters have been sent to members of Congress asking them to invite former President Carter to speak about his recent visit to Israel & Palestine.  I’m planning to visit Capitol Hill with these signatures once we reach 1000+ letters.  Check out the petition here. Add your signature!  #GoingtoGaza

Carter in DC

Day #281 – Netanyahu and his cabinet are doing everyone a favor by using blunt and vulgar language concerning their real intentions towards the Palestinians. Nothing new, of course, except that they aren’t pretending to hide behind a veneer of reasonableness any longer. Obama is going to find it increasingly difficult to side with the Israelis or pretend to be a peace broker. #GoingtoGaza

Day #282 – Palestinians in Gaza may be blockaded and under Israel’s lethal siege, but they are CONNECTED to the world.  Case in point. Today the U.S. House of Representatives voted on the “Fast Track” bill which many Americans opposed. I waited for news about the vote. I sat in Baltimore about an hour from the Capitol listening to public radio and watching news sites for the results. Finally, my friend in Gaza half way around the world posted a message on Facebook with the good news! The Fast Track bill was defeated! Thank you Internet. Thank you social media! Thank you friends!

Day #283 – As much as I want to return to Gaza, this weekend I’m praying that my young friend in Gaza will exit the Rafah gates when they open for 3 days. He was accepted abroad to pursue graduate studies but Israel has treated him like a prisoner all of his life in Gaza. May Allah protect him in his travels! #GoingtoGaza

border-6

Day #284 – Al-hamdulillah! My young friend made it out of Gaza through the Rafah border crossing. He said there were many military checkpoints through the Sinai, and the place looked like a military zone with all of the tanks, etc. But his bus made it to the Cairo Airport. Now I’m saying prayers that he makes it on to a plane. I can’t imagine what his family back home must be feeling. #GoingtoGaza

Day #285 – Lots happening this week. Yesterday Israel released its 250-page report about its investigation of Operation Protective Edge last summer … as a preemptive move against the pending release of the UN Human Rights Council investigative report. This week marks the 8th anniversary of Israel’s siege on Gaza. Ramadan begins Sundown on Wednesday, I think. Denny Cormier and my young Palestinian friend both left Gaza. #GoingtoGaza

Day #286 – What is the difference between me wearing my “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt and Rachel Dolezal changing her hair, eye color and skin pigment to look like she is African American? Answer: I’m not trying to be someone I’m not. I’m standing in solidarity with African Americans. I’m acknowledging the injustices. But I’m not pretending to step into their shoes and understand their life experience, their reality, their oppression. Same goes for the Palestinians. I won’t pretend to stand in their shoes, but I wonder if some zealous activists have tried to cross that line. #GoingtoGaza

Day #287 – First day of Ramadan. I de-activated my Facebook page. Started listening to the audiobook The Haj by Leon Uris. #GoingtoGaza

Days #288-289 – Going cold turkey from Facebook might not be as hard as I thought.  I’m checking Twitter more often and don’t really miss the FB clutter. Today I submitted application for UN Human Rights Officer in Gaza.  I really, really, really hope I’m selected. #GoingtoGaza

Day #290 – The closer one is to realizing his Personal Legend, the more the Personal Legend becomes his true reason for being. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: fear of failure. The Alchemist #GoingtoGaza

Day #291 – Felt very good today to talk with Basya and, later, Jeremy.  Connecting with family is the glue that keeps us all together! #GoingtoGaza

Day #292 – Spent the day reading the UN Human Rights Investigation into the war in Gaza last summer. Utterly devastating to read. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have felt to live through it. #GoingtoGaza

Days #293-294 – Taking a month off of Facebook is a good thing. But I may have substituted one addiction for another. Now I find myself checking Twitter every few minutes. Uh-oh! Finished reading the UN’s report on the Gaza 2014 war. Devastating words! #GoingtoGaza

Days #295 – 298 – Disconnected from Facebook is a really good thing.  But it also feels good when friends from Gaza and NM reach out to me to find out if I’m OK because they’re worried that I’m not on FB.  #GoingtoGaza

 

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رمضان كريم

Today marks the beginning of the month of Ramadan. I want to wish all of my good friends around the world who are Muslims — Ramadan Kareem!

When I think of Ramadan, I think of Cairo in August 2011. Hot – very hot. Noisy – very noisy. And a unity of purpose. Everyone around me was fasting and praying.

There was an energy in the air that I associated with high expectations from the recent overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, but maybe some of that energy was also related to Ramadan.

The streets were festive and decorated with lights and ornaments.

Cairo - July 30, 2011

Cairo – July 30, 2011

Although I was unsuccessful getting into Gaza on that first trip to Egypt, I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to be in Cairo at that time. Today, I’m thinking of my friends there —- missing them and worried. So much has changed in three years.

2011-08-04 22.21.202011-08-04 20.13.51

 

I’m not a Muslim, but when I think of Ramadan, I think of peace and tranquility. I hear the Call to Prayer.

صلاة

   

 And best of all, I remember the generosity of spirit. The love and kindness that was shown to strangers, whether Muslim or not.

Tables spread out between buildings in downtown Cairo waiting to serve everyone after the fast is broken at sunset.

Tables spread out between buildings in downtown Cairo waiting to serve everyone after the fast is broken at sunset.

 

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Eid Mubarak عيد مبارك

Ramadan ends tonight.    Eid Mubarak  عيد مبارك to all of my Muslim friends.

I was in Cairo last August during Ramadan and was impressed by the long tables set up each evening between buildings all over downtown Cairo.  

Ramadan preparations in Cairo 2011

Fasting from sunrise to sunset is a big part of the holy observances.  I also learned that an important part of Ramadan is charity for the less fortunate.   Every night people partake in these community meals. 

Ramadan in Cairo in 2011

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