Not About Food

By Mais

By Mais


I don’t remember much about my first time fasting Ramadan, but I remember receiving a pink shirt as a gift for fasting for two weeks when I was 7. By that age, I started understanding what Ramadan means to me: it is about handling the suffering and hunger of a long day to receive the gift it affords by sundown. The gift is not an ugly shirt (I always hated pink) but it is the whole atmosphere that wraps the month up and the lessons it gives me every year.  

For anyone whose never lived the experience, Ramadan might appear to be about food: don’t eat after sunrise, do eat after it sets, but there are many details within a day, between these two suns. Everyone is trying to make use of the holy month and feed their souls the best way possible; they read the Quran more often, commit to prayers, do extra prayers, and try to be the best versions of themselves. But no, this is not enough to create a tolerable utopian society, especially a few hours before the Iftar when everyone is tired and tempers easily flare. However, all the weary moments of the long day fade away with the first sip of cold refreshing water when the family sits together over a generous table of frantic dishes. The nights of this month are always special: lanterns replace the modern lighting and colour the neighbourhood alleys with pink, red, yellow, blue and orange, kids fill out the streets running to buy snacks from the supermarkets, and people head to the mosques to pray the last prayer of the day.

Some of the other beautiful elements of Ramadan are feeding and helping the poor; getting closer to our families over Iftar feasts, and celebrating our Islamic identity for a whole month. And, to top it all off, we a free ticket to Jerusalem! Let me explain: for someone living in the West Bank, visiting Jerusalem is never easy even on 'normal' days, and I'd never been given permission to go beyond the Israeli checkpoints and see the Dome of the Rock for myself. However, a transit permit is not needed on Fridays during Ramadan. As sad as this painful reality is, the chance to go to Jerusalem brings joy to many Palestinians who are usually prevented from visiting.

I was 19 when I decided to take the chance and visit Jerusalem for the first time. I had serious health issues back then and fasting was so hard under the hot summer of 2018 but that was not enough to take away the determination I had to see my capital for the very first time ever. Ramadan felt so special that day. I met Palestinians from different cities and villages in the West Bank, prayed a lot, walked in the old city before tiredness sat me down in the yards of Al-Aqsa, waiting for the Iftar. That visit let me see how beautiful it would be if the occupation was not there and movement between cities was easier. It opened my eyes to the lives of Palestinians who live there and the sufferings that start from walking on the streets that hold armed soldiers to the violence they confront because of their place of living. Azan [call to prayer] is cancelled this year in Jerusalem, and I can’t imagine how much more sadness this one beautiful city can handle. With all this blackness in the news, the only consolation I have is my peace activism - I continue to hope that being part of this long-term process will bring a blissful Ramadan for a future country that is called Palestine.

Photo courtesy of Guillaume Paumier