By the Way, It’s Ramadan
Living in this Muslim country means that there’s observance of Muslim traditions. That’s fairly straightforward. I don’t really have a whole lot to say about Ramadan here, and I’m a little late to the party, just a few notes on things I’ve noticed so far. First, you can take a look at the schedule for Ramadan. There are quite a few of these schedules floating around, showing the start and end times for fasting during the day. And you can be sure that people stick as much to that schedule as possible. If sundown is at 8:51pm, then they are eating at 8:51pm. Also, something I learned because of Ramadan is Islam’s avoidance of ‘predicting’ the future. While trying to determine the dates of Ramadan, I was told that we didn’t know for sure. What? Of course we knew. Moon cycles are known well in advance. But In Islam, it’s not okay to go predicting the future (like holiday dates), which is also apparently why everyone says Inshallah all the time. Predicting the future would be like doing Allah’s work. Inshallah fixes that problem, giving everything up to God’s will. We finally did get a start date, though, August 11.
One of the big concerns we’ve had is that this month has been extremely hot. We’re talking about mid- to high-90’s each day, no rain, all sun, all the time. That’s concerning for folks who are not even drinking water. There have got to be some alternatives that people are pursuing to keep this up. At the bank, I know there have been a few more people complaining of headaches and feeling ill recently, which I’m going to directly attribute to the fasting. Yet, I admire the earnestness with which these people approach the time of Ramadan. It’s an impressive undertaking, no matter how hot it is outside.
This is also another time to discuss the religiosity of Azerbaijanis, their relationship to Islam. We’ve seen other examples of ignoring Islamic principles, such as excessive drinking by Azeri men. Ramadan is no exception. While there are certainly a lot of people fasting during Ramadan, I think it’s fewer than I thought. An informal survey of the bank office showed that about a third of the office was fasting, about 16 out of the 50 or so people that work there. Talking with Miri, it’s about the same at the TV station. Miri’s also a bit more cynical about the whole enterprise. He suggested the other day that while some people fast for religious purposes, there is another subgroup of people who are fasting for more vain purposes, trying to lose weight, or for health. I’m not into criticizing people for fasting for those purposes. But I do find it a little surprising.
There is also a section of Peace Corps Volunteers who are doing the fast during Ramadan, in a show of solidarity with their fellow Azerbaijani comrades. Raechelle, in Gəncə, is giving it a whirl and documenting it daily on her blog here. The posts are worth the read, at least for a good understanding of what these people are going through daily, as an individual day passes and as the days build up over each other.