Culture is a way of life of the people. It is their socially induced beliefs and practices, values, and behaviour that have been the basis of how they live and communicate to others. There are many cultures that are already established; there are some that are on their way there; and there are a lot of sub cultures within the bigger picture. Some of the practices of one culture are generally the same with practices of the other but basically, they are separated by unique ways depending on how the community practice that certain culture. Generally there have been biased and racist effects of having certain standards of what a culture should be. However that was before and now, however exotic a practice is, it should be respected. Otherwise, a person is offensive by judging the culture different from his. There are accepted practices and there are unaccepted ones. There are ordinary traditions and there are what we call “taboo”, a practice that is considered sacred to a group but is weird to others.
As a person who grew up with different cultures and traditions, I had a taste of life as how other people view it or spend it. I’ve experienced cultures that mould the personalities or identities of the groups of people who had spent their lives within that culture circle. But now I have a dilemma. If I’ve gone through different cultures and spent so much time on each of them, what am I supposed to be? What is my culture? Where do I really belong? What is my real identity? Could I choose, or will the society dictate for me? That is one thing I’ve been confused about all along. A “third-culture kid (TCLK)”-that’s what we’re called. It sounds like we’ve had three cultures that have moulded us, but no! According to an article in Wikipedia, “a third culture kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background”. Well, that figures. I’d love to discuss as many traditions I’ve experienced that are really different from how Filipinos live but I will just stick to a culture that is common not only in the Philippines and in the Middle East but also from around the globe, Ramadan. It is a common practice by the Muslim community. It’s counterpart in the Christian belief- as in my religion’s practices is Prayer and Fasting which occurs at a different time period.
According to Wikipedia, Ramadan originally came from an Arabic root R-M-D as in (رمالضن) ramadhan, ramida or ar-ramad. It means intense heat, scorched ground and shortness of rations. Ramadan as a name of the month came from an Islamic origin. It was named Ramadan because the season where it’s celebrated is a torrid season and the condition of the body of the person during fasting. The Muslims safely reckon the beginning of the Ramadan by determining the beginning of the month with is indicated by the new moon. According to Wikipedia, “There are many disagreements each year, however, on when Ramadan starts. This stems from the tradition of sighting the crescent moon with the naked eye; as such, there are differences for countries in different parts of the globe. More recently, however, some Muslims are leaning towards using astronomical calculations to avoid this confusion”. From a website called The Holiday Spot, it is said there that “a great part of the history of Ramadan depends on ancient Islamic folklore. According to the Islamic texts, Ramadan began with Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam who was born in 570 CE in the Arabian city of Mecca. [He was, to the Muslims, the messenger of Allah. God has given him power and wisdom, so therefore,] as a mark of respect to Allah and to show gratitude to him for the true knowledge that he gifted to his sons and daughters, the prophet asked his followers (and therefore the followers of Islam) to pass the month of Ramadan in fasting, prayers and other austerities and end the month-long non-indulgence with festive celebrations.”
What do the Muslims do during Ramadan? In many Islamic countries, the beginning of Ramadan is announced by a firing of a gun or cannon on the eve of the first day (which begins at sunset not sunrise). Since Ramadan is the month of fasting, Muslims do not eat on daylight. They cannot eat nor drink- not until the sun goes down. The morning hours are usually spent reciting the Koran, while the rest of the day is spent sleeping, reading and praying. Then, as sunset approaches, Muslims gather in the mosque to chant the Koran and pray. According to a website called Fun Munch, “…when do you start to fast? The rule is that when it becomes light enough where you can tell a white thread from a black thread, the fast must begin. In the evening, when you can break the fast and eat, (known as Iftar) it is usually customary to begin with a white soup made of wheat broiled in meat broth. This is followed later by a regular dinner of meat, rice and vegetables. Iftar is a happy occasion and food is either prepared at home or purchased at a market. The timing of Iftar is usually announced on the radio or television today. But the old tradition is to listen for the call from the minarets of the mosque.” Fasting does not only relate in food but also things that people indulge like intoxicating beverages and sexual activities.
When I first came to Dubai, UAE, I got culture shocked. The cultural practices and traditions are very different. I had a hard time coping up at first but I had fun learning how it is there. Just like in the Philippines, there are only two types of weather conditions (excluding the sandstorms, of course, for they come and go anytime of the year). The only difference is that the weather in UAE is more on extremes. In UAE, summer season is extremely hot; the winter season is very cold (snowing is very rare) and the temperatures reach up to -3°C but the average temperature is around 18-25°C. The Ramadan I’ve experienced elsewhere and in the Philippines is very different than what I’ve experienced in UAE. In the Philippines, the Ramadan is observed only by the Muslims (since this is a non-Muslim country). Muslims are not really concentrated in one area-except in Mindanao where almost ¾ of the population are Muslims. So, we, non-Muslims are not expected to follow their fasting but in general-are to respect their traditions and not ridicule and mock them. We also have announcements about Ramadan on TV and radios. It’s like Ramadan is already part of our culture. The holidays of the Muslims have become ours. It’s like were adapting to their culture as to proving to the Mindanao dwellers that they are part of our country too and that they don’t need to build their own government and form a new country. Maybe that’s how it is. In Dubai, we’re the ones who should abide by the traditions of the Muslim since it’s a pre-dominantly Muslim country. My first Ramadan experience there wasn’t that bad but I had a hard time. I was lectured about the rules and practices there with regards to Ramadan. Yes, I’ve learned a lot but it was really difficult for me to be forced to follow them immediately. I’ve tried to conform but I failed most times but after sometime it became a part of me that I was already used to it. First rule is that we have to wear decent clothes when going out so that the Muslims couldn’t be tempted. Second is that we cannot eat nor drink outside in public during the day that means a very offensive disrespect to the Muslims. Third is that we should observe their prayer times (really, we have to do that for 5 times a day!). Fourth is that we should not temp them in any way that will make them impure during the fasting period-actually even during the evening for it defeats the purpose of fasting.
What I like most about the Ramadan experience in Dubai is that during the month of the celebration, our classes are only from 8am-12pm. We usually have to be home by 1pm so that the non-Muslims can eat. We are not really allowed to eat in school to give respect to those Muslims who are fasting-in implementing that, our canteens are literally closed. They only sell water. Though, it’s not that fun staying indoors either during the mall closing hours. However, there is already internet and television during our time, unlike in the past; they don’t have televisions or computers. What I also like in my Ramadan experience is that I get to try their culture and join in their festive Iftar mood. The festive food choices and the late night gatherings that is culturally special for them. I also like the holiday after Ramadan. The Eid Al Fitr (عيد الفطر) is a festive holiday which lasts up to 3 days without classes (if it falls on a weekday).
There is not much change that happened really. It’s not the tradition that changed but how they celebrate it. The technology has affected the way they celebrate and announce. Before, it was only the mosques who announce on the hours of the “prayers, fasting and breaking the fast” now, even the media covers the events that is held on different parts of the country. Like during the opening and ending of the Ramadan with the firing of the cannons at some place, people don’t have to flock around the place, they can already watch it on the TV. But these changes didn’t happen overnight. The changes are very gradual, depending on the reliance of the tradition on technology and practicality is not even close. Muslims spends a lot for the post Ramadan festivities to mark the end of the fasting season.
I chose this practice because I’ve been stricken at heart about the real meaning of this practice. I’ve lived in the Middle East for quite some time and I was drawn to its vast culture and unique traditions. The meaning of the fast is not to show in physicality that they are religious and always obedient-like hypocrites but to cleanse ones’ self and to do penance for their sins and mistakes. They do not have to tell a person -like a mediator- all their sins but they direct it to Allah in fasting. Unlike the Catholics who still practice Acts of Contrition, Muslims believed that it is more personal to tell God directly of their wrong doings rather than having a mediator do it for them. Which I believe so too-that it is better to talk to God directly.