Ramadan in Palestine, as elsewhere, is a time of fasting, prayer, and festivity. It is a time for reflection, growth, and the strengthening of relationships. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar and lasts for 29-30 days, beginning and ending with the new moon. The period is marked by not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset, prayer, giving to charity, and religious devotion.
There are a few things you should know about Ramadan in Palestine for this upcoming observance. It is expected that those observing Ramadan also fast from other indulgent activities like smoking, chewing gum, and othe 'sinful' activites. However, there is a lot of TV that is watched during the period, as many people remain more lowkey and inactive during the day. The elderly and young children are not expected to fast, as well as those who are ill, pregnant, breastfeeding, menstruating, chronically ill, or diabetic to name a few exceptions.
Many shops and stores remain dormant during the day and it is not until night time that most shops become active again, usually opening after the fast is broken and remaining in service until about midnight. The first meal after fasting is called Iftar and is usually a communal family meal and celebration. Nights in general become a festive scene, everyone re-energized from evening meals and now buzzing about with what would usually be the day's activities. People’s homes are ornamented with decorations and lanterns, giving the streets a new vibrancy and life.
In some cities, men will even walk around with a drum to remind people to wake up in order to begin eating and preparing for another day of fasting! They are called Musaharati and often give the Ramadan season an even more visceral rhythm and pulse. This pre-dawn meal is called Suhoor, or “of the dawn.” This is where families get together to feast upon many various delicious and highly caloric dishes in order to prepare for the next phase of fasting.
If you are traveling through Palestine during Ramadan during the day, only hotels with be serving food. Most all restaurants are closed due to the strict fasting from dawn to dusk. In general, Fridays are the worst days to travel because many people make trips to Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which causes for more delays and more crowded checkpoints.
Ramadan is especially characterized by religious devotion, piety, prayer and giving to charity. Zakat is the term for the money which is donated to charity during Ramadan, which everyone who earns income is expected to give a portion of. Traditionally, the rich are supposed to come in contact with the poor, and the poor in contact with the very poor. The idea is to build friendship, trust, and camaraderie within various levels of the Islamic community.
Community building is also centralized around prayer, even more so during this time period. Tarawih is the additional night prayers performed during Ramadan, usually for 2-3 hours each evening. There are 8-16 prayers with a break after the first two sets of two. This additional prayer time is considered optional rather than obligatory.
Overall, Ramadan is both a practice of discipline as well as a social and cultural celebration. People of all walks of life are united through common action, hardship, prayer, and relief. It is a time sharpening one’s resolve, strengthening one's relationships, and being reminded of the blessings we are shown and can share with each sunrise, and sunset.