Monday, August 01, 2011

Ramadan Rituals I Grew Up With

As a little Palestinian boy in the United Arab Emirates, Ramadan was always a fun time for me. For starters, 15 days prior to the holy month, the young boys and girls would tour the neighborhood knocking doors and asking for treats. This is known as Haq Al Lylah. Some families would give us food, others candy and drinks, and few would give us cash. This is like that country’s Halloween without all the ghosts and the creeps. Once or twice, someone unleashed their dogs on us, but it wasn’t that bad. As a boy I heard countless stories of people being granted their wishes by the country’s rulers who were feeling rather charitable on those nights. Then Ramadan came, and everybody focused on drawing closer to God and, of course, indulging in overeating. In the UAE, my dad’s boss who is one of the native people would drop off fresh buttermilk for our family every week. Others would drop off fresh gooey dates, wanting to share the blessing of the month with everyone.

While we were guests of that country, Ramadan was the one time when we felt just like the local people. It was a wonderful time - a feeling of unity was over the country and everyone had plenty to eat and was able enjoy the special season. I remember on some evenings my family would skip Iftar to go to the mosque where they served an extravagant meal after the sunset prayer. On those nights, rich and poor ate together, Muslims and non-Muslims breaking bread together on the floor. The more affluent in the area would bring all sorts of food to share with the local people. I particularly remember going to those meals for the local food, the kind my Palestinian mother wouldn’t make: Harees, Hareesah, Haneed, Qimat and that pinkish drink we used to savor and use to quench our thirst with. A lot of people from India and Pakistan would be present there, too, as they tended to be single and have little income. The true feasts on those nights really brought the month of Ramadan to me.

At night my parents would take us to a Lebanese/Palestinian sweets shop in downtown Dubai, which was then a lot more local. The adults would sit around talk about politics in pre-Intifada Palestine and we would enjoy whatever deserts they are serving that night. The street lights and decorations were dazzling to our little minds. Afterward, Mother would go to the market, an open-air market and do her shopping for the next day. Going out to shop in the heat of the day was never very attractive to her or anyone else. During Ramadan my dad, who’s a smoker, would be rather on edge, so we kids all avoided getting on his bad side. But my mom would just laugh and dismiss his occasional silly outbursts.

Mid-day dad would go to the mosque to read some Koran as the boys in the block played a pre sunset soccer match. I remember we had a good team. I have always liked the goalie position. Dad would join us sometimes, and dare the kids to score on him as he stood in the goal. He pledged to pay any kid 10 Dirham if they could score on him. I remember being proud of my dad for doing that. He would claim he used to play for a team called the black panthers. Only one boy of the older kids ever managed to score on dad. After soccer we would walk together to the house for the Iftar meal. But right before the call to prayer, our Syrian and Egyptian neighbor would send us some of their dish of the day, and then we kids had to go back and give them some of what we had cooked. Toward the end of the day, everyone in the house would head to the mosque for Taraweeh prayer. I remember the prayer being very long, so the kids would cheat and play hide and seek at the mosque door and when the adults were done we would walk back with them as if we were praying there all along.

Then we headed back to Gaza…

[Tarboush Tip: Clay Adir]




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