A few years ago we visited Morocco on our family vacation. I found people quickly warmed up to me when they learned I am Muslim. We often talked about the upcoming month of fasting called Ramazan in Arabic (better known as Ramadan in the West). To my surprise, everyone was looking forward to the start of Ramazan.
How could this be? Shouldn’t they dread a whole month of not eating, drinking or doing anything pleasurable from dawn to dusk? The answer was a resounding, "No."
Muslims around the world see Ramazan as a month of blessing, filled with introspection, charity, fasting and kinship with their fellow brothers and sisters. It’s also one of the five pillars of Islam so any healthy and able Muslim over the age of 12 fasts.
Young Turkish protestors taking time off to break their fast
Ramazan falls in the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Since the lunar calendar is 12 days shorter than the solar calendar, Muslim holidays move each year. This year Ramazan started on August 10th and will end around September 9th depending on the sighting of the moon.
Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown to remind them of the suffering of the poor and the duties of a Muslim to help others less fortunate than them. The fasting also helps Muslim practice physical and mental self-control. Families get up early for suhoor, a meal eaten before sunrise. Most Afghans choose filling food such as eggs, cheese, bread, halwa and of course lots of tea to sustain them through the day.
After the sun sets, iftar or breaking of the fast is done with dates and a cup of tea for a quick burst of energy. Most families prepare a large meal of delicacies to reward themselves for the hard day but many take the time to share their good fortune by feeding the poor a few times a week. Needless to say, in the Islamic world all restaurants are closed during the time of fasting and work days are cut short. So, don’t plan your visit to a Muslim country during the month of Ramazan.
It all ends with a three day celebration called Eid al-Fitr, which means the “Festival of Breaking the Fast”. During Eid, Muslims dress in their best clothes, visit family, and mend broken friendships. They give treats to children, contribute to their local mosques and they feed the poor.
Many of my best childhood memories are of the first day of Eid, when we donned our new clothes, gathered at my grandfather’s house, played tirelessly with our cousins all day and collected Eidee (gifts of money) from our uncles and aunts.
I find it hard to fast in my fast-paced American life and to recreate the magical Eid experience of my childhood for my children. However, in our family Jeja (my mom) was a diligent observer of Ramazan. She looked forward to the month of fasting and observed it with pride, enthusiasm and diligence. Now, she is 78 year old and is no longer able to fast.
Muslims in Strasbourg, France praying during Ramaza
In celebration of the month of fasting, I would like to share Jeja's favorite dish halwa e sojee , semolina flour halwa.Afghans don’t know how to make a small amount of halwa, since it’s usually made in large amounts to be shared with others.You can easily half this recipe and reduce the baking time to 15 minutes. I wish you a peaceful and rejuvenating month of fasting.
Halwa e Sojee
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
4 cups semolina flour
3 cups sugar
6 cups boiling hot water
2 tsp. ground cardamom
Heat oven to 300 degrees
In a large bowl, mix the sugar with the boiling water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.
In a large, preferably non-stick pot with a fitted lid, heat the oil on high heat. Once it's piping hot, add the flour and stir for 10 minutes or until golden. It’s important that you continuously stir so the flour doesn’t burn, yet it gives it time to cook and turn golden. Remove the pot from the stove and put it in the sink.
Slowly add half of the sugar mixture to the pot, being careful that it doesn't splatter on you. Stir quickly and return to the stove. Set over medium heat, and stir as you add the rest of the sugar mixture. Keep stirring for 2 minutes, the halwa will start to thicken. Reduce temperature to medium- low, add cardamom, stir for another 3-4 minutes until mixed well and it turns a darker shade of brown, being sure that the bottom doesn’t burn.
Wrap aluminum foil around the lid and set it on top of the pot. The aluminum foil will insure a tight seal as the halwa continues to cook. Place the pot in the oven and cook for another 20 minutes. Serve with pieces of pita bread.
Serves 8-10 people
Jeja cooking halwa.
(Some of the information about Ramazan was taken from Fact Monster and Wikepedia)
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