ACCRA, Ghana -- Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and contemplation, began on June 28th.
Until recently, the concept of this religious event was distant to me as there isn't a large Muslim population in my North Carolina home. However, since coming to work in Accra, the capital and largest city of Ghana, my interactions with Muslim people has increased.
I work next to a lovely Muslim village full of women in brightly colored Hijabs, and have witnessed demonstrations of peaceful coexistence, when in every conference that I attend, the opening prayer is done by a Christian and the closing prayer given by a Muslim.
Under terms of Ramadan, Muslims must fast from sunrise to sunset. This fast means no food and in some cases no water, but it's also a time of restraint for other things, such as personal vices, unkind thoughts, and angry actions.
While I am not partaking of the fast myself, but out of respect me and many non-Muslims choose not to eat in public during Ramadan. Until I restricted my public eating habits, I never realized he availability of food. Vendors in every corner, sales ladies walking through traffic jams balancing baskets of bread or fruit or candy on their heads and selling their wares to people in cars, bicyclers pushing ice-cream carts.... All forbidden during Ramadan.
Even though it clearly requires a great deal of restraint, at least it seems pretty straightforward -- a time of self-sacrifice and re-devotion to Allah, a time to cut out the bad and nurture the good. However, the blessed month can come with some unexpected twists and hurdles.
For instance, while traveling. Technically, the Quran gives a pass to travelers, suggesting they keep up their strength for he journey and make up the missed days later. However, many Muslims continue adhering to as many guidelines as possible. Timing is important during Ramadan, and a hassle for anyone flying through time zones. There is a time for prayers, a time for fasting, and a time for Suhoor (pre-fasting meal) and Iftar (meal to break the fast.) In places with a heavy Muslim population, there are public announcements or alerts reminding Muslims of the time.
I was caught off guard while watching TV last week when my regularly scheduled programming switched suddenly to play Arabic music and show a passage from the Qur'an. However, those mid-flight have a bit more trouble than those at home watching TV. Luckily, airlines are usually sympathetic. Recently, Emirates announced that along with providing traditional Muslim sunrise and sunset meals, with items such as vegetable samosas, dates and baklava, it would also be using a special tool that calculated latitude, longitude and altitude to provide the most accurate possible timing for the ceremonies.
Back on solid ground, athletes may also have problems. This year, Ramadan coincides with the World Cup, which causes some Muslim players extra difficulties. On the other hand, the Qur'an does give an exemption to warriors about to go into battle, so perhaps Football is covered in that fine print. Ramadan's timing may even have affected betting odds on teams, as some suggested teams from Muslim regions might have performance issues. France, Germany, Belgium, and Algeria all had prominent Muslim players and, in my humble opinion, they all played admirably, fast or no fast. That may be thanks to a special team of nutritionists FIFA provided to advise the fasting players.
As well as lack of food and hydration fears, disrupted sleep schedules (for nighttime prayers) may result in athletes not being up to par. In the past, some coaches held nighttime practices so the players could be well nourished during practice, so at least the nutrition issue would be solved, if not the disrupted sleep issue. Especially in hotter regions, it isn't uncommon for any Muslim to burn the midnight oil during Ramadan, which unfortunately can lead to an increase in car accidents during the month.
On the other hand, in Brazil sun up to sundown is only 12 hours, so if athletes make sure their sunrise meal is adequate and they start the day hydrated, it shouldn't be a problem. In the Netherlands, however, Muslims would have to be much hardier, as a day lasts almost 20 hours there this time of year. Australian Muslims have it easiest, with only ten hours of fasting.
Perhaps one of the more bizarre results of the clash of modernity and Ramadan is its recent mingling with Reality TV. Though not without its share of controversy, as some think the TV personalities don't present the proper air of modesty and good taste representative of the faith. However, some shows are better than others, and such idiosyncrasies vary from show to show.
For example, one where teens try to recite the longest passage from the Qur'an to win prizes, or shows where gifts of charity are awarded specifically to those less fortunate, to the "ever popular" cooking shows that in this instance, focus on Suhoor and Iftar -- each with the apparent intent of declaring that even the oldest and most sacred traditions can keep pace with changing times.
If you are not partaking in Ramadan, please be considerate to those who are. Know that employees may need time off and it's not a "holiday" or "vacation" -- it requires dedication, commitment, and adjustment. Extra attention to charity or one's family life, as well as daily prayers, require a more flexible schedule and understanding colleagues. If in a Muslim neighborhood or workplace, be discrete in your dress and eating habits. And try to eat an Iftar feast if you get the opportunity.
To our Muslim readers: Ramadan Kareem!