Developing The Culture Of Ramadan In Jordan

Since this is my first Ramadan in Jordan since 2000, I thought I’d share a thought or two. First of all, I’ve been having difficulties reconciling with this new environment where religion interacts with culture. West Amman is like an odd sample in the petri dish. Nothing about this place adds up or makes sense.

When you live in a plural society, it’s essentially about accepting more than one idea. However most plural societies tend to have those ideas exist separately and not entwined the way we do it here.

For instance, when we look at what Ramadan is truly about, it is a month whose purpose is dedicated to worship. That’s fairly simple.

What does it entail? From being with your family to reading the Quran and praying taraweeh or helping out the poor; it’s basically a vast array of activities that have a common thread. There’s nothing complex about it.

The culture of Ramadan that has arisen lately is fairly strange. Ramadan tents for example come with everything from techno music to a live oud player and a belly dancer.

Instead of using the month to quit smoking, people seem to smoke more. Shisha or hubbly bubbly or argeelah has become a standard symbol of Ramadan which you see printed on posters alongside a crescent moon and a fanoos (lantern). And with all due respect to the 99% of Jordanians who are smokers, you’re really not doing something bold by “not smoking” because you’re fasting. All this crap has been proven to be poisonous and hazardous to one’s health which means you are by default practicing something that is unIslamic by night while you fast in the morning. It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a glaring contradiction that no one seems to mind.

Many of the “Ramadan” events, have little or nothing to do with Ramadan whatsoever.

In my absence of several years “Ramadan Bingo” seems to have become popular. People will go to a cafe or tent embossed with Ramadan decorations and a Ramadan “environment”, and they will essentially gamble during the holy month.

Ramadan TV is also a big thing. Networks dish out their best soap operas to lasso in families. I used to enjoy them when I was younger but most of these shows have become incredibly lame, yet no one seems to want to admit that. It’s like everyone’s in denial. Ramadan TV has become so entrenched within the culture of the holy month, that no one dares question it.

At Safeway, they set up this bedouin tent with all the declaratives of a “Happy Ramadan”. And I’m thinking to myself, what does a bedouin tent have to do with Ramadan? When did we start equating this religious month with a whole other part of our heritage? Do Arabs have a monopoly on Ramadan?

My problem is that all of this is something that’s sold as things that are exclusively Ramadani when they are anything but that. In reality, they are pretty much offensive to the true spirit of Ramadan. I mean, really, lets not kid ourselves here.

Businesses in Jordan have taken over Ramadan and sold it for scraps. Everywhere there are logos carrying the biggest names. All of them selling something or sponsoring something “Ramadani”. And you still have those girls who walk around selling cigarettes to cafe patrons.

The ideas generated, on their own, are “fine” (i.e. I couldn’t care less) as separate entities and could take part any other time of the year. But when you sell it under the guise of a month which is essentially about religion, this is just flat out wrong.

Yes, Ramadan is supposed to have a cultural aspect to it, that’s inevitable, if not encouraged by Islam. But think about how we’ve come to develop that culture.

There is a difference between developing a positive culture that revolves around the religious aspects of what is in fact, an exclusively holy month, and/or developing a culture that creates a whole other “social” Ramadan. The latter of which makes no religious demands of the individual.

Why isn’t there a Ramadani culture developed where families and neighbors visit one another every other night? Or where friends get together to partake in charity work? Or the 100 other activities that are all uncommon elements throughout the year but can be celebrated during a single month where they embody the very spirit of that month and its holy purpose.

Is that such a difficult and Utopian concept to apply in this day and age? Is Amman such an island of alienation?

In Jordan, if not the Arab world, culture often trumps religion. What makes things worse is that the absurdities which exist within our culture are upheld under the guise of Islam.

It could be a strip club, but hey, as long as it has the “Ramadan” seal of approval, then it’s okay.


  • بس في اشي محيرني اكتر:انو شو العلاقة بين رمضان Ùˆ التهريج؟يعني الناس صايمة Ùˆ التلفزيونات بتحب تخفف عنها شوي،بس الضحك ما بيصير الا بالتهريج؟

  • Avery good read!
    I remember how I used to watch many TV shows during ramadan back in Amman, and how I used to miss taraweeh prayer at the mosque, but living in the states gives ramadan a very different meaning! I can’t deny that I miss the family and friends gatherings during this month, but to be honest, I’m getting to like it here better!
    Muslims from all over the world get together at the community, eat together, pray together, many sessions are held too, during the day! it’s like a big religious event throughout the month, simple, yet effective!

  • ” I’ve been having difficulties reconciling with this new environment where religion interacts with culture. ”

    This isn’t unique to jordan or the arab world, look how extremely commercialized christmas has become

  • asoom and sana: that’s true but this is about ramadan and not christmas. moreover, i would argue that the practices and purposes associated with this entire month make it a bit more religious than celebrating the birth of Christ.

  • انا أعتقد ان أستغلال الشهر الكريم ليس سببها الحضاره كما تفضلت به،وانما في النضام الاقتصادي أو كما يعرف بنضام أقتصاد السوق الحر وطبعأ هذا السوق لم يكن حرأ في يوما من الايام، الدي فرض علينا من قبل جهات داخليه وخارجيه،عندما عشت في الاردن لمده عشرين ،شهر رمضان لم يكن مستغل من قبل التجار واصحاب الاعمال بهذه الطريقه الوحشيه والغير خلاقه، اليوم ،ها نحن نري كيف هذا الشهرالكريم قدأخطتف لخدمه أصحاب النفود والتجار والشركات عابره القارات،اليوم نصططيع ان نجزم ونقول بأن رمضان قد عولما وستغل الي صالح المطبلين والمزمرين الي سوق العولمه أو ما أسميه البلطجه أو سوق الحرميه والنصابين

  • Great post on the subject… You captured the essence of this mess, I love Abu Mahjoob’s cartoons, they sum it up…

    It’s all about smart marketing and naive consumers… who choose to turn a blind eye to their own actions…

  • الأردني الحر أكيد الحق على الملك والنظام، أو أنك تعبان من الصيام لأنك لم تضع اللوم على الملك في هذا التعليق؟

  • Batir,

    LOL; Why did you drag the regime and king into this? he didnt.

    Overlooking the relation between the Free market system and its cultural and behvioural consequences is ethier due to ignorance in what the free market rules adaptation means or the relaiztaion of this relation and denying it to keep holding to this rotten economical approach.

  • Waalla Nas ya zalamih inta 3a rasi min fog walla.

    y3ni you coulnt be more correct even if you tried your best.

    y3ni now, if you are fasting and “practicign ramanda” the way it should be, its really, really dificult to mix with people or attend any event or even go to a lot of the resturatns. everywhere you go: argeelih ziftih, loud songs, ,o`3anneen o mo`3anniyat. everywehre you go. TV SUCKS, SUCKS big time, what you need to do ti just “protect yourself” is to isolate yourself, which is really, really sad, i mean we live in jordan, and we have to isolate ourselves to maintain some sort of “healthy” fasting. IN JORDAN. I mean ya akhy when you are in Canada its totally understandable, but in Jordan?!!

    walla it really really makes me sad:( 🙁 🙁

  • باتير،،دعني أسهل وأبسط الامر لك،أنا ساعطيك مثال بسيط وزغنون،أذا كنت مسافرا علي أحدا الباصات العامه،وخلال الرحله وقع حادث مروع سببه السائق ،من هوا االمسؤل عن الحادث ØŸ المسافرين أم السائق،بلطبع السائق،ومن هوا هذا السائق الذي يقود الاردن الي الهاويه والهلاك؟ سؤل بصيط وجوابه أبصط…

  • Why don’t you start something something about this …the online jordanian community has power. Get together…go volunteer for the poor and hungry when YOU are hungry. check with takeyet om 3ali or small unfunded charities. like you said Nas you buy ink by the barrel (and bandwidth by the mega byte) reach out to big companies for a little bit of wealth redistribution.Start your own ramadan breakfast tent, not in west amman where people don’t bother bending over to pick up a bareezeh but where it’s needed, use labels and big names to the benefit of the poor people who can’t even afford a decent meal let alone affording to drink pepsi or have dessert. I’m all for the use of traditional jordanian weapons takhjeel o i7raj o jahed bala on rich companies for the benefit of the poor

  • I fail to see the problem with a little fun??!!! You seem to object just for the sake of it! I much prefer the Ramadan tents with belly dancers to the previously boring month when no body went out and there were no places to go to. Additionally, think of these attractions from a tourist’s prespective. Don’t you think that it will act as an attraction for tourists?
    When you go to Egypt and they have a belly dancer everywhere I never hear anyone objecting as it is seen as part of their “fun” culture so let us try to be less nikadiyeen.

  • Salaam ‘Alaikum

    Do tourists always have to be catered to? If they come to Jordan or another Muslim country during Ramadan, don’t they kind of know what to expect? I mean, it’s in all the tourist books. Do Muslims serve God or tourists? I mean, for one month out of the whole year can it not be about this stuff? Just 30 days or is that too much? I ask this honestly, not to argue.

    Personally, I agree with Nido. Ramadan does not “feel like” Ramadan to me when I’m in Jordan the way it does when I’m in the States. If you suggest, “Let’s read Juz’ Qur’an together,” people will roll their eyes at you and make a dozen and one excuses why they can’t (won’t) read Qur’an. If you suggest Tash, it’s happy time and enthusiasm. We are in self-imposed isolation from people this month. We just could not take another 29 or 30 nights of smoking, gossiping, stupid television shows where the women put on makeup with a trowel, more gossiping, eating to excess, more smoking, dissing the deen, and all the other stuff of previous years.

    My opinion is that if you want to gamble, have a belly dancer, blare crappy pop music in a tent, or do any of the rest of it, do it without slapping the name “Ramadan” on it. Really, Ramadan doesn’t need it and neither do you (the general you). Just do it, and be proud of gambling and don’t justify your “fun” with Ramadan.

Your Two Piasters: