It is not every year that Ramadan falls on a hot summer month, since it follows the Islamic lunar calendar and not the Gregorian. Every year Ramadan begins about ten days earlier than it did the year before. The month symbolizes the time when the first few verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the prophet Muhammad.
Somun is a very common and traditional style of bread served at the special fast-breaking dinners held every night at sunset, called Iftar. Apart from fasting all day, a few more things are asked of Muslims. They are encouraged to abstain from sex, all drinks including water, tobacco, and generally to resist all temptations until the sun goes down. Muslims are also encouraged to read the entire Qur’an during this month, and to head the lifestyle of Muhammad even more closely than usual.
On Monday, I did not realize that Ramadan had begun until the afternoon, by which time I had eaten bread, cheese, walnuts and more. I decided to walk to Baščaršija, old town and Islamic center of Sarajevo, for my first night of Ramadan. The only things I had fasted from that day were sex and internet, and I knew I could find one of these at my favorite café.
After I had broken my email-fast and started on a macchiato at café Sova, one of the bartenders sat down at the table next to me with a plastic bag of Bosnian cuisine to-go. Nadir invited me to join him for Iftar. I had already eaten and resisted his offers of peas and potatoes and chicken and somun, so Nadir poured me some juice. “I am so hungry that I will not even be able to eat all this. Have you ever been that hungry? So hungry that you cannot eat much?” “No, never,” I replied.
Nadir explained to me the significance of Ramadan within the context of the five pillars of Islam. They go something like this- 1. Allah is the only God and Muhammad was his messenger.
2. Pray five times per day.
3. Give an adequate proportion of your income to charity.
4. Fast during the month of Ramadan.
5. If you can afford it, take part in the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in your life.
Both the third pillar and Ramadan encourage giving to those who have less. “But not all Muslims give as they should,” Nadir told me. “If every Muslim in Qatar gave what they should, all of Africa could eat what they want” I do not know where Nadir heard this, nor do I believe that this endeavour could be carried out even if Qatari people were to open their wallets for Africa. However, what I understood from this is that there is a major break between the Islamic philosophy and practice of giving. “There are one-and-a-half billion Muslims in the world! If everyone gave what they should, things would be a lot better. But, the Day of Judgment will come.”
Me: It has not come yet?
Nadir: It will come. We must prepare for the Day of Judgment. Be prepared.
Me: It will not be a good day?
Nadir: No! No. It will be…chaos. Maybe we will still be here, but maybe we will be gone. There is no way to know.
Nadir then convinced me to finish his leftovers. It had still been light out when I arrived and the café had been empty. As the sky had darkened, the other tables and the couches had slowly filled. Baščaršija was coming alive, and Nadir had to return to work. A few minutes after I finished my first Iftar (admittedly a false one), Nadir returned to take the garbage. He left a Snickers on my plate. Fun size. “After Iftar, you must eat some candy.”
That night, as I passed back through Baščaršija on my way home, I noticed a hundred people praying in the lamp-lit courtyard of the large Mosque. Families and friends were out strolling the stone streets. Shops were open and flashing lights and trinkets out into the night. I thought I smelled fresh coffee. There is a mood of stifled excitement and prayer in Baščaršija every evening of this Ramadan, as soft words are spoken and fasts are broken.