Monday, October 02, 2006


Fasting isn’t easy. Observant Muslims abstain from food, water, coffee, cigarettes and sex from sunrise to sunset for 29 or 30 consecutive days every year. I tried it on Thursday. Two Fulbright students hosted an iftar -- the meal that breaks the fast every evening. As part of the fun, I decided to come as hungry as anyone else.

Luckily, I don’t smoke, and I’m not addicted to coffee. The hardest part was the prohibition on water, or any fluids for that matter. My head began to mildly throb as the day stretched on. Concentration, which is meant to become easier, became more difficult. I was hungry to be sure, but not doubled-over hungry. Thinking ahead, I ate half of an extra-large pizza the midnight before.

The fast is meant in part to remind one of his or her relationship with God. I mostly was reminded of how great a cold glass of water can taste on a hot day.

Our hosts tuned their television to the state channel, with a live feed from the Umayyid Mosque. Most Syrians do the same. When the call to prayer goes out at sundown, the eating begins. I broke my fast with dried dates, which is how the Prophet Muhammad is said to have broken his fasts. Most Muslims do the same, then proceed to water and soup.

The iftar was potluck: some people made their own dishes and others, such as myself, bought them. I brought 20 cream- and walnut-stuffed pancakes, called qatief, a traditional Syrian Ramadan desert, and one of my favorites (I ate one of each). There were the predictable Middle Eastern rice and meat recipes, but my favorite was a pasta that was touted as a triple-fusion dish, combining spices from America, India and Libya. It looked and tasted an awful lot like macaroni and cheese, which I hadn't eaten since leaving America. I came back for generous seconds.


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