New York - If you ask any Muslim immigrant about the feeling of Ramadan outside his or her country, the answer will unanimously be: it’s different. No one will tell you whether it is better there in Morocco or Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. Neither do they tell you whether it is worse here in the US or France, Italy or Australia.
New York – If you ask any Muslim immigrant about the feeling of Ramadan outside his or her country, the answer will unanimously be: it’s different. No one will tell you whether it is better there in Morocco or Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. Neither do they tell you whether it is worse here in the US or France, Italy or Australia.
Living in the host country, as much as it is full of difficulties and fraught with hurdles, can be a challenge, especially for those who find assimilation to the new adopted culture an overwhelmingly tough enterprise. Similarly it makes one appreciate one’s differences, and enables expatriates to enjoy the blessings of a multi-faceted society within the framework of multiculturalism where tolerance and acceptance as an attitude is ubiquitous. It also rekindles the feelings of homesickness, letting the mind body and soul susceptible to an irresistible longing for past stories and unforgettable moments.
The similarities and differences between spending the holy month in USA and other Muslim countries go beyond comparison. Cultural differentiation and social interaction play a primary part that leads Muslims immigrants in the West to feel less fulfilled and quite unsatisfied during Ramadan and/or religious rituals and holidays in general.
Karim Sammari, a Moroccan Student living in Wichita, Kansas, highlights the difficulty of the holy month outside his home country. “With the extreme heat in the Midwest that sometimes exceeds above 100-110 F and with the 9 to 5 work schedule every day, it’s very demanding and physically tiring to fast,” he told NWN in a phone interview.
It can be challenging for some Muslims to fast while everybody else eats and behaves normally.
“The first few days are the hardest since the faster is making himself accustomed to the new life style and diet, but you crack up easily when you see your coworkers bringing Sonic Subways or pizza orders, especially when they eat in front of you during the break,” added Mr. Sammari.
In the past, the lack of information and understanding regarding the morale goals and spirituality of Ramadan pressed tedious issues for Muslims at the professional level, especially for those whose work demands extra physical energy. Unlike the West, in Morocco the working schedule is reduced to allow people additional time for their religious practices, as well as to avoid exhaustion and dehydration.
For Simohamed Elissaoui, a Moroccan American and a civil society activist in the metropolitan area of New York, celebrating Ramadan in Morocco is a “unique experience.” “There is nothing like Ramadan in Morocco! Nearly everything is different in the US during Ramadan,” he exclaimed.
Because of its spiritual connotation, believers devote most of their time to piety, good deeds and charitable activities hoping for blessings and repentance from the Almighty. Social interaction, family visits and Iftar gathering are also among the indispensable activities associated with Ramadan.
Mr. Elssaoui regularly organizes Iftar gatherings at his house every Ramadan, hosting new and old residents to share the joy and blessings of community. He stresses the impact of interaction and the value of creating cordial, religious atmosphere which is conducive to promoting a sense of belonging and strengthening self-satisfaction
“Though we can learn to adjust to Ramadan in the US, the thing that I miss the most is sharing Ramadan with family and having all of my brothers and sisters around a table full of delicious food,” he said.
Amina Bouhamid, a Moroccan American Student who grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, remembers her first and only experience of Ramadan in Morocco as “a whole different feeling and enjoyable experience.” “I’ve only experienced Ramadan in Morocco for a few days last summer when I visited Casablanca with my family.”
What is enjoyable and cathartic for Bouhaid is the fact that “everyone’s fasting and excited. She goes on: “we make food together and break the fast together. You feel like everyone is going through the same thing.”
She notes the huge differences between both places: “The streets are pretty empty in the daylight hours. But the festivities start at the evening after Iftar when people go out and where that whole social interaction we lack in the US happens. It’s a lot livelier at night.”
Because of the professional engagement in the US and the stressful hectic life-style, many Muslims find no time to extra familial meetings. “In the US, you go to the Mosque and pray together and that’s it, everyone goes home,” she said.
Being a single can also affect people’s experiences during Ramadan. To most expatriates, it is not an easy task to live with traditions and Islamic practices, especially if one lives far from a mosque and far away from family. This further complicates the situation, adding the feeling of homesickness to loneliness.
Reda Benazzouz, a Moroccan Canadian, expresses his warm feelings to fellow immigrants who have to leave their native countries and endure the harsh conditions of disarrangement. He stressed the value of family in providing the warmth and affection one needs for fulfillment and spiritual security.
“Since I live with my family in Canada, we make sure to teach my younger sisters about the importance of Ramadan in a Muslim family, as well as keeping our Moroccan traditional meals in Iftar, such as Chbakiya, Briwate, Harira, Sfoufe,” he said. He continues: “because I live across the street from a beautiful mosque, I have the chance to attend Tarawih prayer almost every night, which allows me to cover the spiritual aspect of this holy month just as I used to do in Morocco.”
Adam Echwadi, a restaurant owner and event planner, still remembers the ecstatic fulfillment Ramadan brought to him in Casablanca, despite the 22 years he has spent in New York. He told Morocco World News about his infatuation with “the smell of delicious food prior to Iftar, the delectable taste of the first date after breaking the fast and also the sound of the drummer “Dakak” in the middle of the night waking up people for sohour.”
He enumerates the activities he missed the most: The sound of the mouadine chanting before the fajr prayer; the athan at the fajr while you are rushing to the mosque to catch your prayer, the noise of street venders who scream to sell their merchandise; the smell of chabakia while you are walking in the street.”
While Moroccans living in the United States talk about Ramadan in Morocco with nostalgia, they also point that the atmosphere of this holy in their home country is no longer what it is used in the past.
Faiza Bassou, a Moroccan American living in Columbus, Ohio, told MWN about the rapid pace of change Morocco is undergoing and calls it “an unprecedented transformation.” “I was so excited to go and spend my first Ramadan in Fez, after 9 years in Columbus Ohio. Since I still have in mind the sacred atmosphere accompanying Ramadan in the spiritual Capital of Morocco, and while Moroccans in America still stick to their traditions, I was shocked to see how disengaged people have become from traditions.”
Mr. Sammari voiced his concern over Moroccan over the loss of some traditions and the extent of change Morocco has undergone. “When I was a kid during the 90s, people were committed to traditions during Ramadan such as frequent family visits, special cuisine. But during this past decade, things started to change in Morocco, people were celebrating Ramadan just between themselves, family visits have become rare, the cooking is not as authentic as it was, and people decorate their tables with more western delights,” he said.