Reflections on Ramadan and Toasts to Turkey

28 Nov Reflections on Ramadan and Toasts to Turkey

Ah, ostentatious October!

How I love this show-off month when the earth delights in decorating herself in jewel toned accessories like a mother of fashion, embracing her new fall line.Graciously remaining emerald green, the lawn glows while all around golden leaves glimmer like dangling earrings swaying from the lobes of the trees and the Virginia Creeper sheds its summer suit for ruby scarves wrapped around our retaining wall.

The air is crisp and clean and clear, the sunlight adding shimmer to the scene and it is this season of transformation that I missed most while living in the Middle East.Abu Dhabi heralds in its fall with hot and humid weather—and Ramadan, too.For the five years we lived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), that holy holiday fell between September and October. For Muslims, Ramadan is a month of reflection and abstinence from earthly pleasures. Eating, drinking, smoking, and other sins are not permitted between sunrise and sunset. Prayer becomes more important, as does charitable work, hospitality and home, and meditation upon the Islamic faith. Even if you’re not Muslim, you’re required to respect this time when you live in the Middle East.

Now looking at my very Canadian calendar—which announces the arrival of Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan—I can’t help but ponder my seasons of submission in the UAE versus our Thanksgiving of plenty in Canada. Not only would you never find mention of a Jewish (or for that matter a Christian) holiday on an Emirati calendar, you’d be lucky if you could determine an Islamic one. That’s because Islamic nations follow a solar calendar for business, but adhere to a lunar one for religious holidays. Which means dates upon which special events fall is at the mercy of—well, the moon.

While advances in Astronomy have been most helpful in determining cycles of the moon, only an approximate start for Ramadan can be given. Like all due dates, predicting the arrival of a new moon is the easy part. When the blessed birth will actually occur is a more elusive matter. Ramadan takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar, but because that calendar is based upon lunar cycles, lasting 29 to 30 days, within the solar calendar where months consist of 30 to 31 days, Ramadan starts on a different day annually. It begins 11-12 days earlier each year until after 35 years an entire cycle has moved through the seasons, and you’re back to moon one.

But the real challenge is that Ramadan doesn’t get rolling until the new moon has been sighted “to the satisfaction of each community or country.” Highly regarded heroes (official “moon spotters”) were employed like holy detectives on the look out for the sliver of a new moon nightly, so they could officially reign in Ramadan.
Depending upon the weather and maybe a spotter’s eyesight, the Holy Month could begin on a different day in a different country—heck, in a different city within the same country.I recall our fourth Ramadan in Abu Dhabi. Out for dinner with friends, we arrived at a hotel without reservations and after much cajoling, managed to secure a corner table with an ocean view, promising to depart in less than two hours, when the organized folks who had taken the time to reserve the spot were due for dinner.

It was late October, the time when the promise of perfect weather is delivered to your table on a salty sea breeze and so with a fine wine we toasted the oncoming season as well as our last dinner out for a while because absolutely no alcohol would be served during the holy month. About an hour into our meal, our waiter rushed over, yanking the bottle of wine from its frosty blanket of ice, quickly filling our glasses. “You must hurry!” he said. “Finish these drinks quickly, my friends. Ramadan begins in five minutes!”We did as we were told, guzzling while gazing skyward. We couldn’t see the moon, but obviously someone far more important than us had.

We felt just a little badly for the foursome waiting in the reception area, eagerly anticipating a fine meal at the table they’d reserved, without the wine we’d wrangled. And now, as I write, I am preparing for the arrival of family for Thanksgiving dinner. I’m secretly giving thanks for the bounty of the bird that’s baking and the sweetness of the wine that’s chilling—and for the sheer delight of celebrating every sip and bite, under the bright light of the moon.