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Ramadan is the fasting month in Islam, when every Muslim who is able to goes without food or drink from sunrise until sunset. At maghreb, or sunset, families gather around a platter of dates, rayeb (fermented milk), yoghurt or kishk (crushed dry bread mixed with water). At the first sound of the call to prayer, everyone gives thanks and breaks their fast with a few dates and a drink. After the maghreb prayer, families gather again for “iftar”, or dinner. Muslims all over the world enjoy sumptuous meals at iftar, and Siwa is no different. The oasis full of tourists at this time, who are drawn by the peace and unity of Muslims observing the fast.

In Siwa, children begin to fast for a few hours and then for a few days during Ramadan in order to learn how to fast. They are expected to fast the entire month for the first time when they are 12 years old.

Boys usually have a party to celebrate their first fast. His aunts, cousins and grandmothers bring gifts, praying for Mohammed as they enter the house. More traditional households cook duck, macarona, boiled eggs, and roqaq, a kind of large crepe. The duck, wrapped in roqaq, is given to one of the women present. She then carves the duck, wrapping slices of meat and boiled egg in roqaq. This dish is called ashengood, and is served after the macarona. These days, the boy’s mother may simply invite the young male cousins over for macarona and chicken. At the end of the evening, a basketful of biscuits, sweets and money are tossed, and everyone scrambles to catch them. Tea and more sweets are served.

On the morning of Eid el Fitr, the feast that marks the end of Ramadan, boys who fasted for the first time will hand out silver coins to children at the door of the mosque.

Leylat al Qadr, or “Night of Power,” is the night on which the Qur’an was sent down, and so it has special significance. This single evening, according to Sura al Qadr, is “better than a thousand months” and observant Muslims will spend some or all of the night in prayer. However, no one knows exactly when it is, although it is sought on the odd-numbered evenings during the last week of Ramadan. In Siwa, the 27th of Ramadan is honored as “Qadry,” or Leylat al Qadr. Families share a whole duck or chicken for iftar, and after isha prayers the darwish (sufi holy men) chant dhikr, or remembrances, to Allah.


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Mohamed Hemeda


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