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.