Ramadan Reflections: Diversity in Morocco, and the Myth of the Universal Majority

Friday, September 11, 2009 | Ar-Ribat, Morocco (map)

During Ramadan, Moroccan families take evening or late night strolls along Rue Mohamed V in Rabat.
Catfights aside, I actually tend to enjoy Ramadan. In some years past, whether in Jordan, the US, or Morocco, I've even chosen to fast.

Of course, part of me enjoys the challenge, but the greatest motivation of all is not personal but social. In any Muslim country, Ramadan presents one of the surest opportunities to get "in" with the locals. Fasting far surpasses the "gesture of solidarity" realm—it's not easy, as Muslims know firsthand. Because they fast out of religious conviction, many show respect for any non-Muslim with the capacity and willpower to partake voluntarily. In this most generous of seasons, that respect translates into a lot of new friendships, invitations to share meals, and a rare instance of genuine bonding across the great cultural divide. This instance of commonality is all the more precious here in Morocco, a place where the locals have a distinct edge about them.

Observing the Holy Month, from a Safe Distance

Friday, September 4, 2009 | Ar-Ribat, Morocco (map)

A typical gut-busting spread in Morocco mixes soups, pancakes, meats, and all manner of syrupy confections.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan (رمضان) began almost two weeks ago, and with it our tranquil routine of daily life in Rabat was flipped on its head.

On the first day, a Saturday, the normally busy streets of our neighborhood of Agdal were lifeless. Rabat had become a ghost town, as its residents waited out the daylight indoors, suffering through the start of their obligatory month of daytime fasting.

With the arrival of dusk, I knew, the streets would buzz with life—couples and families would stroll together, the cafés would stay full until the wee hours, and a carnival atmosphere would envelop the city.

But those public festivities are reserved for after iftar—the daily breaking of the fast. This ritual gorging begins in the family home each evening with the sunset call to prayer. Though Ramadan is