Ramadan in Europe

Muslims Long for Call to Prayer

During Ramadan, Muslims in Europe, too, change their daily routines. This is expressed in their renunciation of food, drink, smoking and sexual contact between sunrise and sunset. Muammar Atwi reports from Berlin

During Ramadan, Muslims in Europe, too, change their daily routines. This is expressed in their renunciation of food, drink, smoking and sexual contact in the hours between sunrise and sunset. Muammar Atwi reports from Berlin

photo: Muammar Atwi
An Arabic bakery in Berlin, Germany

​​At the beginning of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, in Berlin neighborhoods where large numbers of Muslims live there is a different feeling in the air. A special mood permeates everyday life, and many people from the Arabic-Islamic world change their daily routines.

This is expressed in their renunciation of food, drink, smoking and sexual contact in the hours between sunrise and sunset.

The owners of Arabic shops know that it is good business to stock up on a variety of imported foods favored by Muslims during Ramadan. Dates, “suus” (a drink made from licorice), “dschellab” (sugar and date syrup), and “qamruddin” (dried, pressed apricot juice) are available. The bakeries suddenly have the sweets that can’t be found the rest of the year, for example “qata’ef” (pastries soaked in sugar syrup), “kalladsch” (phyllo dough filled with nuts), and other delicacies.

The fact that certain kinds of lemonade can suddenly be found in shops is due to the effect of politics on the religious life of Muslims. During Ramadan in particular, it is hard to miss the selection of drinks for customers looking for alternatives to drinks made by American companies.

Shoppers in Arabic shops can’t help but notice the additional choices of drinks with names such as “Muslim Cola,” “Muslim Up,” “Mecca Cola” and “Arab Cola.” The same is true for the assortment of meats available, for example “Halal sausage,” “Halal Salami” and other kinds of meats from animals that are butchered according to Muslim rites.

Fasting in Europe is no different

In an Arabic shop in Berlin full of people shopping for the foods needed for breaking the fast (“Iftar”), we meet a woman named Maha who tells us about the special joy of Muslims during this month. She says that fasting in a European city like Berlin is fine, “as long as one strives to please God and to curb one’s needs.”

“It is better to spend Ramadan in an Islamic country,” counters her friend, “because an atmosphere of celebration heralds the holy month there. In Germany, one is caught unprepared for Ramadan.”

Bilal Heikal, the owner of an Arabic grocery and specialty foods store, tells us about the special joy felt by the people from his home country when Ramadan approaches.

Ramadan in Germany cannot be compared to Ramadan in an Islamic country: “When Ramadan is approaching and we are anticipating the month of fasting, we feel it in particular in the special preparations we are busy with. We import more foods during this time because we know that certain ones will be in high demand.”

There is a demand for certain kinds of vegetables not found in German supermarkets and which have to be imported from Jordan. Heikal says that German customers ask for specialties for “Id-al-Fitr” (the festivity to break the fast at the end of Ramadan), for example dates, certain kinds of cheeses, “rahatlukum” (an oriental sweet), among others.

Breaking the fast and praying together

In a Lebanese restaurant we meet Ahmad, a student, who is devouring a sandwich. His friend Mustafa, also a student, is sitting next to him chatting, but he is not eating anything. We ask him why he is not eating anything. He answers that he is fasting and that this is the first time he has been able to hold for the whole month.

In previous years he had always broken off fasting earlier. He tells us about the special atmosphere among the Muslim students at the university as they prepare together for “Iftar” and common prayers. In Islamic countries the conditions for fasting are better because there everyone can hear the call to prayers.

Ahmad explains why he is not fasting by telling us he is not devoutly religious. “In my country the situation is different. There I can’t eat in public because I respect the feelings of others. Here in Europe there is a different climate, here everyone is free to live according to his own convictions.”

The restaurant’s owner Hassan tells us that many Muslims here don’t fast, “but out of fear of causing displeasure, they don’t want to eat in restaurants.” The Germans, he says, are aware of the meaning of Ramadan and fasting via the media, and they show respect for their fellow Muslim citizens.

Suhaib believes that many Arabic youths are not religious but they fast nonetheless because it is tradition or because they use the opportunity to lose weight: “They reflect on Allah, avoid alcohol and have no direct contact with women. As soon as the holy month of fasting is over, they return to their everyday lives.”

Ramadan is like Christmas

In a bakery we meet Syrer Heitham, who tells us about his longing to hear the call to prayer and the “Mussaharati” (waking call). He longs for the meals his mother used to prepare for him and which the whole family would eat together.

“A Muslim at Ramadan,” he says, “is like a German at Christmastime. There is an atmosphere of celebration, and he prepares for the festivities by buying gifts.”

Katharina, a German woman, regards Ramadan from a different—but no less emotional—perspective: “No doubt, Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims. I have seen how a whole family will gather around the table at sundown, and I enjoy the affection they show for each other. The Muslims’ fasting is hard and requires each individual to renounce most of their human needs for the whole day. I find it very impressive, I couldn’t do it myself. As a Christian I know what fasting is, but not such a difficult fasting.”

Muammar Atwi

© Qantara.de 2003

Translation from the German: Christina M. White

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