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Fasting, empathising, exchanging views - the many aspects of Ramadan

Most people know Ramadan as the month during which Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink during the day. But what actually happens after the fast is broken? Muslims in Germany demonstrate that there is more to know about this month.

2013: Ramadan in Germany

Young men praying

Ramadan involves much more than fasting and eating. Ramadan is a time of spirituality, being involved with the community and charity. Source: Arne List

With eyes wide with wonder, Leonie and her friends look at the sparkling lights between the minarets. "Welcome Ramadan" is written there in large letters. She and her friends are also welcome. They have arrived late; the sun has already sunk below the horizon. They have barely stepped into one of the large white tents when the imam intones the call to prayer­ - the indication to all those breaking their fast that the time has come. But no one is rushing. Casually, Leonie's companion at the table takes a wrinkly date, pops it in his mouth and greets his neighbour. And now the heavily spiced lentil soup is finally ready.

"The sultan of eleven months"

 "Funny...," whispers Leonie to her friend. "Surely they must be hungry after 18 hours?" Eighteen hours without eating a crumb or drinking a drop of water. This is almost unimaginable for many people in Germany. Yet for Muslims, there is much more to this month than hunger and thirst. The ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar is called "the sultan of eleven months". It is greatly anticipated throughout the year. It is a month of reflection and spending time together. A month of reconciliation and that joins people together throughout the world. "We are really positively impressed by the sense of community. We had imagined it would be a lot more hectic and they would less open to strangers because people had not eaten for a whole day," said Verena, one of the non-Muslim guests that evening.

Every year, the Göttingen DITIB mosque invites all the citizens of the town to a joint feast to celebrate breaking their fast. So, every evening in the mosque of this university town, up to 400 people meet to eat together, exchange views and to get to know each other. Including the two friends, Verena and Leonie. They have had sporadic contact with their Muslim neighbours in the past, they admit. But this means that they were received with all the more kindness and accompanied to the mosque. "We didn't have to wear headscarves at all. People explained everything to us and translated and we were even allowed to be there for joint prayers," said another friend happily before popping a piece of baklava into her mouth.

Memories of home at the Festi-Ramazan in Dortmund.

There is baklava for dessert in Dortmund, too. This where for the second year running, Europe's largest Ramadan festival, the Festi Ramazan, will take place. It is a mixture of fair, carnival and children's party that takes place on an event space of 100,000 m² with a kilometre of shops and 60 food stands.  "Our aim is give the older generations a sense of home and to resurrect the history of Ramadan festivities of their youth. It is also intended to excite interest in cultural diversity amongst children and young people," explains Eyyüp Dokuz, co-organiser of Festi-Ramazan. The festival is particularly aimed at non-Muslims who will perhaps have their first encounter with German Muslims and their ways of living. "There is interest and longing," adds the 38-year old computer expert. On the first weekend of Ramadan as many as 30,000 visitors came to the event which requires a great deal of planning and organisational skills. And the event organisers had hoped for more support from the city of Dortmund. "We are making a huge contribution in the area of inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue but sadly we have had to fight for approval for the event and for every cable laid so far," Dokuz complains, raising his eyebrows in despair.

"Nights of Ramadan"

However, while greater numbers of  people are thronging to the Festi-Ramazan to see the bushy bearded Nasreddin Hoca, a humorous Turkish Sufi cleric from the 13th century, performing "The Journey to Jerusalem" on the stage with the man from the neighbouring kebab stand in Dortmund, the "Nights of Ramadan" is once again opening its doors in the German capital. All around Berlin's Museum Island concerts, workshops and museum tours for children and adults take place from 27 July to 11 August 2013. The closing festivities of the feast of Ramadan are the highlight of the cultural programme which take place on 10 -13 August 2013. A Muslim family celebration for all Berliners takes place in the Sehitlik mosque, Berlin's largest mosque, and on Karl-Marx-Straße.

Ramadan - the best time for contributing to the Muslim alms tax

In addition to exchanging social and cultural views, Ramadan is also a time for empathy and sympathy based on the saying "Only he who is hungry can fully understand." This is the reason Muslims use this month for giving zakat, the Muslim alms tax, and sadaqa, voluntary donations. Here the special focus is on the sunna of the Prophet Mohammed, the second most important source of Islamic law after the Koran. This relates that the Prophet was the most generous of all men and the height of his generosity was attained during Ramadan1.

Whether for offering assistance or inter-faith dialogue, Ramadan is the time during which Muslims particularly reflect on social togetherness - the blossoming of equality and tolerance. Fasting during this month is obligatory for every healthy Muslim. Every year, people from all social strata, whether bankers or homeless, sit and break their daily fast together. Yet what appears at first sight to be a great feast is on closer view only a means to an end. And perhaps the best opportunity to make the first step to knock at your Muslim neighbour's door.

by Sümeyye Celikkaya, 31.07.2013

[1] Handed down from Ibn Abbas in Sahih Al-Bukhari (Chap 1/4):

Ibn 'Abbas said: "The one sent by Allah, Allah's blessing and peace be upon him, was the most generous of all men, and the height of his generosity was attained during Ramadan, when Gabriel met him. [...] Truly, the one sent by Allah, Allah's blessing and peace be upon him, was swifter than the unstoppable wind when giving away good things.

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