Experiencing Ramadan in Jordan

Written by Danny Hage, (Student Correspondent) University of North Carolina
CET Intensive Arabic Language in Jordan, Summer 2015

The holy month of Ramadan brings Jordan to a standstill, when the sun is out at least. Descending the hilly road from my apartment to the University of Jordan for the day’s class on June 18th, the first day of Ramadan, I felt out of place. There was not a person in sight and not a car moving, save a taxi or two. The air was eerie, but a nice, peaceful change from the hustle and bustle of the street. During the weekends, the streets are almost completely empty while during the week there is some movement because some people do open their shops.

Nothing has changed within CET during Ramadan, except for no eating or drinking during class. That must be done during the breaks in between class. There is also a law dictating that every person living Jordan must abstain from eating or drinking in the street during the time that people are fasting, as that could warrant up to a 50 dinar fine.

Nighttime is a different story. People leave their homes around 7 or 7:15 and flock to restaurants for food, ready to fill their empty bellies at Iftar. Every Iftar begins with dates and a drink of water, respectively, and then the meal can be eaten. The dates and water are a tradition in Islamic history, but I am not exactly sure how it came about. The streets are packed as the city comes alive, and people sit at coffee shops and argileh shops, enjoying company of friends and family.

The most authentic Iftar experience I have had so far has been at the house of one of my friends. Family iftars are much better than eating out because one, a lot of delicious food is cooked, and two, it’s just nice to see family eating together during a special holiday.

The purpose of fasting during the day is to reflect on your relationship with God and to distance yourself from all things that distance you from him. I personally did not choose to fast, although quite a few people in the CET program did for more of a cultural immersion. My reasons for not fasting are that I felt it would detract from my ability to retain information during class, and if I did fast, I would want it to be to strengthen my relationship with God, but I don’t feel that I could take on such a difficult task because my mind would be on food all day.

Although the majority of the population does fast, food is still easily accessible for those not fasting, so I would not say that I have faced any challenges. The one thing I have learned though is that if you are living with a Jordanian Muslim who is fasting, or anyone in CET who is fasting for that matter, it is appropriate to first ask if it is ok to eat in front of them during the day to respect their decision.

The month of Ramadan is observed by the Jordanian people in such a way that accentuates their already warm and welcoming culture. Our language partners will invite us to Iftar with their families, shopkeepers will wish you Ramadan Kareem as you enter and leave their stores, and people maintain their high spirits despite being hungry, thirsty and tired. Although most of the CET students will be leaving the day before Eid, I extended my stay in Amman, and I am looking forward to being in Amman and learning more about how Jordanians celebrate the end of Ramadan.

Desserts that we made for Iftar during our cooking lesson.

Desserts that we made for Iftar during our cooking lesson.