What are the Ramadan rules? Are there any “cheat meals” allowed? And why is breakfast eaten at night? How do athletes work at this particular time and why does football player Mohamed Salah arouse my admiration? There are no coincidences in Ramadan, in other words, there is a lot of symbolism and meaning in everything. From the number of dates to the moon phases.
One day in the middle of a yellow desert.
When I received the message that instead of the long-awaited Madeira, I need to fly to Morocco on a contract, I threw myself on the bed and started crying. “I do not want this yellow, dry, and sandy Morocco!” – I wept pitifully on my knees. Back then I had a hip problem which added even more drama. So I cried like that for three days, refusing to accept that instead of returning to the paradise island, I must move to the desert. My thoughts were already in Madeira, among laurel forests and endless greenery, sipping coffee with friends by the ocean. And suddenly such a surprise…
A surprise that turned out to be priceless because in Morocco I spent the most wonderful and fullest months of my life. Today I apologize to my mother and friends, and most of all to Morocco itself. I apologize for hysteria, unbelief, and the fear of change (for the better). Undoubtedly, this cold country with a hot sun ignites the imagination, delights, and shocks, in other words, totally fascinates.
I was delighted with its hypnotizing energy, amazing people, and moreish food, as well as its fascinating religion. And this is what I want to focus on. Why today? Because Ramadan, a special time for Muslims and one of the five pillars of Islam, has just begun (April 13). The Ramadan rules have always aroused curiosity and controversy, so I want to explain them thoroughly and dispel any doubts.
The Ramadan rules – a lesson of humility for… Catholics.
I would like to start by pointing out that I am a practicing Catholic. BANG! It is not a very popular declaration (these days), but I emphasize it to prove how much Ramadan in Morocco impressed me. Certainly, my work helped me to experience all of this and take a closer look at Islam and its traditions. And for this, I am very grateful. As Morocco is also known for its richness of aromas and spices, there is no place for bland flavors. Therefore, I will feed your hunger for knowledge in Moroccan style, spicing it up with curiosities and oriental flavors. So get ready for a feast.
My first encounter with Ramadan.
I started my Moroccan adventure with a huge leap into the local tradition and religion. In other words, I entered the gate of Africa just in the middle of Ramadan. Thanks to this, I was super excited, and soon I had many interesting conversations and stories to my credit. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, a movable feast. It means that it depends on the moon phases and begins with the appearance of the crescent moon.
Admittedly, this sounds a bit like a desert witch’s magic, but it is nothing more than an astronomical observation of the sky. Let’s not forget that the date of Easter is calculated in a similar way. Therefore, Muslims often wait until the very end to fix the exact date of Ramadan (especially its end). And what is Ramadan? In religious terms, it is a memorial of the Quran revelation by Archangel Gabriel (the same one!) to Prophet Muhammad. In turn, for Muslims themselves, above all, it is a time of exceptional bond with Allah, self-discipline, and reflection.
Dos and don’ts of Ramadan rules.
Islam provides for certain exceptions that release Muslims from fasting. However, they do not look for shortcuts, and despite the possibilities, they usually resign from the dispensation. So, who is not affected by Ramadan rules, and who is allowed to “catch it up” later?First of all, seriously ill or elderly people are exempt from fasting. However, “in return” for each day of non-fasting, they are obliged to feed the poor. In practice, they provide as many dinners to the needy as there are days of Ramadan, which I personally consider to be a great initiative.
People who are mentally ill and unconscious do not fast either. Apart from being exempt from fasting, they are not obliged to feed the poor. The fulfillment of their religious duties is postponed until they regain strength or senses.
Women during menstruation, pregnancy, puerperium, or breastfeeding must “make up” fasting at another date. Undoubtedly, this dispensation is closely related to health issues, which are an absolute priority in Islam. Taking care of the body and health is the primary principle of this religion. That is why Islam does not accept alcohol and other drugs and, for example, body tattooing.
Children are used to Ramadan gradually until they reach puberty. This means that before that, they are either completely relieved of fasting, or they do it to a limited extent. Later on, the obligation of fasting is imposed on them too. So if a 12-year-old girl starts to menstruate, she has an obligation to start following Ramadan rules.
Ramadan in the business trip, is Allah still watching?
People on a journey that makes fasting difficult must make up for it as soon as possible after the obstacle has ceased. An interesting fact is that some Muslims see this exclusion as an open gate. Being more precise, as an open gate leading them straight to an all-inclusive holiday in Europe. Of course, this is not a trend, but it happens that some “faithful” urgently go on a business trip. It is worth noting that the journey is about distancing from home by more than 83 kilometers, precisely, right? So the key and the answer are the old Ramadan rules regarding the former three-day dispensation. These 83 days are a calculation of the distance that can be covered in these three days.
The rhythm of the day vs. Ramadan rules.
I don’t know about you, but before sleep, I fantasize about the delicacies that the next day will bring. I wonder and plan greedily, what will I eat for the breakfast and throughout the day. I’m really angry, when, for some reason, I skip the meal or don’t have time to eat it. I will go one step further admitting, that persevering in the Catholic fast is super difficult for me. Let’s not forget, that it’s about only one day, every now and then, and still, I have a problem with keeping my resolution. Two small meals and one bigger is quite a challenge for me, so imagine my confrontation with Ramadan fasting! Or maybe almost fasting, because the whole day’s struggle is well rewarded.
Breakfast for dinner equals Iftar night feasting.
On the one hand, during Ramadan, Muslims live as if “nothing has happened”, life goes on, but at a slower pace. On the other hand, everything is turned upside down. Why so? First of all, during Ramadan the rhythm of the day is quite differentiated, and therefore it begins… in the evening. Therefore, after a series of prayers, the day starts after sunset and with it a real feast (iftar). It is treated as the first (not the last) meal, so it is called the breakfast of Ramadan.
This explains my surprise when I was invited to a Moroccan breakfast at 21:00. I will never forget the impression that the evening call to prayer made on me as the voice of the muezzin spread over the ocean. The iftar itself took place in a beautiful tavern on the shores of the Atlantic, where the sun was saying goodbye to the day hiding behind the ocean horizon. To this day, I have chills at the mere memory of oriental religious singing that pierced me right through.
I invite you to three dates, milk and tajine.
I didn’t immediately understand “why aren’t we eating yet!?” That’s why I came to my senses after a while and grasped that we were waiting for dusk. What caught my attention was the number of dinner participants and identical dishes on the tables. As I said, Islam knows no coincidence and follows tradition and footsteps of the prophets faithfully. That is why, for example, Muslims eat three dates with milk as an appetizer, as did the prophet Muhammad.
In addition, the menu of Ramadan is one great culinary improvisation, depending on the cuisine of a given country. In Morocco, lentil soup with meat and pita bread, almond cream amlou, and the famous tajines are served. The point is to eat well and, above all, to celebrate with family and friends, because Ramadan is a time of intensive meetings As a result, most iftars can go late into the night (and without alcohol, of course).
Dinner for breakfast and wake up in the middle of the night.
The day ends (begins) with an early Suhur breakfast, eaten before the call to morning prayer (fajr), just before sunrise. This meal must be well-balanced “food for thought” in order to provide nutritional value and energy for the day. You can eat whatever you want, but it’s smart to choose ingredients giving you a lot of energy.
Depending on the season and latitude, the times of meals, prayers, and the length of the day can really vary. Ramadan in African countries during less hot periods is literal salvation. Another aspect is the length of the day which can vary greatly from country to country. That’s why sometimes you have to get up around three in the morning in order to cook, pray, and prepare “breakfast”. By the way, I’m curious how Muslims cope with Ramadan in countries with polar days? I’m looking forward to your suggestions!
Night (ch)eating and the life of athletes in Ramadan.
Not only is Ramadan an incomprehensible challenge, but it also applies to the entire spectrum of Muslims, including athletes! As soon as I realized this, my hunger for knowledge did not keep me waiting for long. Just after a few days, I reached the very source – the Moroccan athletes. My (handsome) guide-professor was Hamza from Marrakesh, a former professional swimmer and PE teacher. Besides the fact that he drove me all over Marrakech on a motorbike, he gave me so much invaluable knowledge. Among others, he made me realize, that during Ramadan, many athletes switch to the night mode. This means that in the middle of the night, they wake up once or twice to eat and provide a proper caloric balance. What’s more, they train very often at night.
Ramadan rules vs. Champions League and Mohamed Salah.
If you think that the rules of Ramadan in professional sports are a bit different, that’s not entirely true. Yes, there is more flexibility here, because you can refer to dispensation due to traveling and postpone your fast. However, many Muslim football stars, including Mohamed Salah, are not taking advantage of this dispensation. In addition, despite the unimaginable financial responsibility for sports performance, coaches often give the players the freedom to make decisions (in contrast to nutritionists). As a result, many athletes train “without fuel,” without food, and above all, dehydrated. A different approach is presented by the French footballer Paul Pogba and the German representative Mesut Özil, who choose football, despite their deep faith.
As a result, many professionals switch to the “owl mode” and train at night, being able to recharge batteries and maintain the caloric balance. Is it already breaking the law and a little cheating? For me not at all. Still, it is a test of character and dedication, and above all, an attempt to combine faith with professional sport. Sometimes during key games, athletes use the dispensation for 2-3 days, but usually, they keep an uncompromising fast.
And last but not least the thanksgiving and Eid al-Fitr.
Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr, the day of thanksgiving. It is the culmination of fasting and the moment when Muslims, in a festive mood, visit each other sharing joy. What are they thanking for? For everything. However, this particular day is thanking Allah for persistence in fasting and redeeming the sins. On this day, everyone unites, regardless of social status or even religion.
Eid Mubarak and an invitation to a grilled ram head.
I spent the last day of Ramadan in the beautiful port town of Essaouira, which every time moved my heart. Po kilku godzinach pracy nowo poznany Marokańczyk zaprosił mnie do świętowania tego wyjątkowego dnia z rodziną. Under his wokr uniform, this kind gentleman wore a T-shirt stained with the blood of a freshly slaughtered ram (optionally goat, cow or camel). The Moroccan symbol of Eid al-Fitr is the sacrifice in memory of Abraham’s deed, who offered his son Isaac to Allah instead of a lamb.
I had to give up the feast (thanks God!) for two reasons. First, because of work, and second, because eating goat’s and sheep’s products is my greatest punishment for sins. As a result, I had a “me time” and was able to see Essaouira naked, free from tourism, and as blue as if it were all the sky and the ocean. And such views do not happen often, more precisely only once a year (not covid one, of course).
Ramadan touched me with its truth, humility, and love.
Devotion, gratitude, and remarkable faithfulness to tradition touched me deeply. The Muslims I met didn’t take shortcuts and didn’t bend the rules of Ramadan. Instead of looking for ways to avoid fasting, they looked for ways to help those in need. I worked with people who constantly traveled between the cities, which gave them many opportunities for dispensation. And yet, they did not cheat and were mad at me when I was teasing them by asking if they are eating when no one looks.
Some food for thought about faith.
Undoubtedly, religiosity varies, and there are a lot of exceptions and scandals. But I was lucky and honored to experience the purity and good of Ramadan. I must say, I am very grateful that Morocco welcomed me with open arms in which I happily fell into, eating sweet dates. Time in Morocco also allowed me to do my own “homework” and think about a few things, and for this alhamdulillah, or thank God!