Ramadan Diaries takes you into the Ramadan experience of two students of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, Oguz Alyanak and Dick Powis. They will be fasting amongst Muslims in two Francophone contexts, Strasbourg, France and Dakar, Senegal, respectively. By sharing brief notes on the fasting experience, the aim is to provide a reflexive account of participant observation as it is undertaken by two scholars with distinct backgrounds and field sites.
During the holy month of Ramadan, the month when the Devil (Shaitan) is chained, many Muslims around the world undertake the practice of fasting. Fasting, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, is first and foremost a practice where Muslims rediscover the importance of self-restraint. As an individual is deprived of bodily intakes such as food, water, and cigarettes, the mind goes through a journey of self-discipline. The fasting individual is also asked to watch his/her manners, such as restrain from being foul-mouthed, gossiping or staring at the opposite sex with bad (i.e., sexual) intentions. One of the aims of this month, then, is to discover that one’s will can overcome his/her physical weaknesses, and to tame the ego (nefs). Another aim is to be reminded of the bounties that Allah provides year-long, to be thankful of His grace, and to help those who may not be as fortunate by sharing one’s wealth (a practice known as the sadaka-i fitr). Sharing is not only monetary. During this month, Muslims come together, attend communal dinners, after dinner prayers specific to Ramadan (known as the tarawih/teravih), Quran recitations (known as muqabala/mukabele) and other conversation circles. Another aim of Ramadan, then, is to teach Muslims the importance of fraternity and community (ummah/ummet). Continue reading