By Sekar Krisnauli
By Sekar Krisnauli
Rabat – As an Indonesian living in the United States, I recognized numerous differences in the way the two cultures observe religious practices, specifically Ramadan. Having been in Rabat for the entire month of Ramadan, I was curious as to how it would be different this time.
Throughout the month, I primarily stayed within the Old Medina, the administrative neighborhood along the avenue of Mohammed V, and the Agdal neighborhood – safe to say I was in the busier centre of the approximately 580 thousand people who live in the urban regions in Rabat. I arrived in Rabat 10 days before Ramadan started. That said, I couldn’t make a thorough comparison between Rabat during Ramadan and Rabat in any other day. However, as a foreigner, I noticed a number of habits, events, and incidences that I found amusing yet unfamiliar and were significant to how Muslims observe Ramadan.
The night is short, but not in short of fun
The city came alive and regained its youth a couple of hours after the sun went down; restaurants were fully operating again, cafes were packed with chatty men gazing at the people who passed them by, the Avenue of Mohammed V was congested with pedestrians, the pathway by the Bou Reg Reg river was vibrant with families and street vendors, and the Old Medina was in its busiest and brightest (literally) state.
Simultaneous to the setting sun, the call to the maghrib prayer that also indicated ftour, the time to break the fast, was primarily around 7:45 p.m. Since the vast majority of the population are Muslims – Islam is the constitutionally established state religion in Morocco – Rabat was significantly quieter in the day as most businesses that sell food and beverages were closed and the working hour was curtailed to 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
After tarawih prayer, which ended generally at 10:30 p.m., people flocked the streets, came home at approximately 2 a.m., and in between they lived as if they have switched the time of day. Aside from cafes and restaurants finally catering the people, cinemas and theatres were open, and a mini amusement park grew more crowded as the night progressed. Watching, and being in the middle of, the clamor that only lasted for a few hours was absolutely amusing.
People made an effort to get closer to God, and tarawih became a spiritual experience like no other. The mosques within and around the Old Medina were filled with a congregation of men and women, though they might have had to pray outside on the street as the mosques did not have enough space for everyone to pray inside.
People swarmed the mosques for every prayer, but the mosques were most crowded for isha and tarawih. Some times, the imam said a prayer that deeply touched the hearts of the congregation that they would weep and wail as they prayed. I asked my host mother about it, and she said people felt a deep connection with the prayers recited. They either felt apologetic for the wrongs they had done or blessed for all the grace God had given them, or maybe both. Something more specific I noticed was that my host sisters would spend a few minutes during the day to read the Qur’an, and I’ve heard that the practice was no stranger to many of those observing Ramadan.
As Muslims believe that “the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed” during Ramadan, Muslims took the time to become more spiritual and discipline in their prayers. That discipline, seriousness, and thankfulness was felt and evident even for a stranger (like me).
Everyone becomes a sweet tooth
A lot of sweets, honey, almonds, and a selection of jams were easily found on dinner tables for ftour and the streets of the Old Medina. Different to restaurants and cafes, bakeries were open throughout the day to fulfill the people’s ftour needs. This, I notice, emphasized the people’s frenzy for sweets once they break their fast; also remembering that they need to increase their blood sugar level to reenergize after a full day of not eating and drinking.
Sweet snacks dominate the selection of Ramadhan shahyoat, food made for special occasions, in dinner tables and markets. On the streets, I easily found baghrir, something I call ‘Moroccan pancake’; almond briouats; chebakia with almonds, a deep fried Moroccan cookie dipped in honey; and chamia, Moroccan cake with almond, among many. Sweets also dominated my dinner table and my host family would quickly snatch them from the plates. Sweet mint tea and juices were also the most popular drinks for ftour, indicating their love and need for sugar.
Ftour at the beach
As Rabat is located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, people took ftour to the beach for a change of scene, a beautiful one in that – the view of the sunset was breathtaking. Starting at 6:30 p.m., the beach was crowded with families, friends and lovers gathered around a rented set of tables and chairs under the shade of an umbrella. Some groups chose to unfold plastic carpets and sit on them on the sand or a spacious rock that faced the ocean.
Once the sun sets and people were allowed to eat, the atmosphere turned lively. There were people who brought cooked and prepared meals from home, while others brought a grilling set and cook by the beach. Some times, there might be men and women praying on the beach once the maghrib prayer was called. The sound of their praying was heard among people’s talks, laughs and munches. People generally stayed until late in the night – I passed by a group of young people who lit candles and listened to one of their friends played the guitar – before heading back to the centre of the city.