Friday, October 22, 2004


So last Friday began the Islamic Holy Month of Ramadan. That's the way you've probably seen it spelled anyway, but I take issue with it. I saw it written for the first time in Arabic the other day and was really surprised by the actual spelling due to what I'd always seen as the transliterated spelling. In Arabic, it's spelled with a "rah," a "meem," a "dha," an "alif," and a "noon." So basically, R-M-letter we have no direct English equivalent for-A-N. The short vowels between the first three letters are assumed, or are included as "breath marks" and written above (in this case, although at least one of the short vowels is written below) the letters. In Arabic, only the long vowels are actually written...usually (except in formal writing), the short vowels are just implied. This is surprisingly little trouble most of the time as you just say what comes naturally and it's usually right. But there are the occasions when you could be completely the words for king and kingdom (in the classical anyway...not sure how often they're used colloquially). Both are spelled "meem," "lam," "kaaf" (M-L-K), but king is pronounced melik, while kingom is pronounced moolouk.

Anyway, so this letter "dha" is one of the several Arabic characters for which there is no direct English equivalent sound. It's one of four sounds which somewaht correspond to our "th" sound. There's the "tha" which is like in the word "think" (aspirated "th") the "dhaal," like in the word "than" (vocalized "th"), then these two others - "dhaud" and "dha." Basically, they're both the softer, vocalized "th," but the back of the tongue is somewhat depressed making this a "fuller" sound. They're nigh-impossible to tell apart, even to native speakers...but I think that the "dhaud" is longer than the "dha," which seems to be more forceful.

Anyway, so I take issue with how the Western world transliterates the word Ramadhaun, even though I understand why they do it.

But that's all beside the point. So it's Ramadhaun now. Let me tell you a bit of the history of the month. It is a month in which Muslims celebrate, I think, the beginning of the time when the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) was given the Qur'an. They celebrate it by "fasting" for 40 days. That sounds really long to us Western people and makes us think about Ghandi and folks like him....except that this isn't that kind of fast. Basically, they can't eat, drink, or smoke while it's daylight. So, during Ramadhaun, they all get up really early, eat a huge breakfast, don't eat all day, then have a huge dinner the second the Sun goes down (as marked by the call to prayer). Apparently, they also get up at like 3AM to have a light lunch-ish meal.

So, basically, the result is really crabby and tired people during the day, who end up weighing more at the end of the month of "fasting" due to the "binge" concept brought on by no food during the day. But, the good part is that good deeds done during the month of Ramadhaun count like 100xs more than good deeds done during the rest of the year, and people who pray during Ramadhaun (like they're supposed to year 'round), but who don't during the rest of the year are forgiven for not doing it the rest of the year. That's a pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.

So basically, people become very "religious" during the month (some women only cover during Ramadhaun)...and there are more beggars than normal since people are itching to do "good" deeds like give alms to the poor (which is one of the five pillars of Islam).

Ramadhaun is very different in Jordan than it is in Iraq (at least in Baghdad). Since Iraq was a _secular_ republic, the people there, while religious, aren't such sticklers for the law being enforced by the government. In Amman, even though it has a large Western and Christian population enforce fasting in all public places. For instance...while walking down to the nearest little shopping area the other day, maybe half an hour before Iftar (the breaking of the fast in the evening), Donna and I saw a police car driving really slowly in front of the restaurants on the street. The policemen were looking into the restaurants to make sure that no one was actually _eating_ there. It's ok for them to prepare food (and for people to buy for "take away"), but no one's allowed to actually _eat_ in public. They're also not allowed to smoke (did I mention that people get crabby during Ramadhaun? Yeah....Arabs either abstain completely from smoking or are the worst chain-smokers known to the ones who smoke have a _really_ hard time during Ramadhaun). If you're caught smoking in public (or eating or drinking, presumably), you're put in jail until 'Eid (the three-day celebration at the end of Ramadhaun).

Just in case you're concerned, even according to the Qur'an, women who are pregnant or nursing, people who are travelling, or small children are legally exempted from the fast (although the women and the travellers are encouraged to make it up at a later point...or give a certain amount of money to the poor).

Another side-effect of Ramadhaun is more traffic. Since most of the restaurants are closed, a lot of people are off of work. Also, due to the general malaise, people go into work later and leave there are lots more cars all over the place. BUT, the stores all have sales and the best movies and stuff are on TV during Ramadhaun...which makes up for some of it, I guess.

Also, here's a little tid-bit of information for you. In the Arabic language, there are two names for every month - the "number" name, and the "Islamic" name. Most people know the months as "the first month, the second month, etc." Some of the more educated people know the second names for each of the months (like "Nissan" is the name for April). Well, "Ramadhaun" is the "Islamic" name for July. There's a bridge in Baghdad called the "Jisr Arba'taush Ramadhaun" - the 14th of July bridge. No, not in celebration of Bastille Day...the 14th of July is also the old "independence" day for Iraq (possibly the day that the Ba'ath Party took over, possibly the day the the post-WWI British-installed kingdom was overthrown, possibly some other random anniversary - they celebrate everything they can here).

Of course, _now_ Iraqi independence day is June 28th - my birthday, because God loves me (and the Iraqis). :)

Anyway, that's my discourse on Ramadhaun, both in general, and on surviving it in Amman. Escape Velocity is now downloaded, so I'm going to play that for a few hours. I hope y'all have enjoyed your Friday reading! That's one advantage of having "weekends" that don't overlap. My "weekend" gives you an excuse to blow off work for a while on a Friday! Enjoy!

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