Tomorrow, unless some galactic accident (for example, the Moon falling into a spatio-temporal fault), the month of Ramadan will begin. Ramadan is a period of 30 days when Muslims observe a number of specific religious duties. And in a country where 92% of the population is sunni (the remaining 8% being Christians), this particular month is obviously a major societal event. So, Ramadan: why, how? And what tips to know when traveling to Jordan during Ramadan?
If you are realizing you’re about to set foot in Jordan during Ramadan, stay calm..and enjoy your visit! Petra, Jerash, and all the major sites will stay open, including Friday. But in order to fully enjoy your visit of the country, you need to anticipate some things more than usual, to take specific precautions… And also, get prepared to observe a very enriching moment of life:-)
Hijri calendar and Ramadan: what does History say?
Let’s start with the facts: Ramadan is the 9th month of the Hijri calendar. « Hijri »? Hegira is derived from Hijra, which means « emigration » in Arabic. For the first Muslims, this emigration began on July 19, 622 (Gregorian calendar), just after Muhammad, driven out of Mecca, obtained permission from the Medinese tribes, to find asylum there with his first companions. How to symbolize the birth of Islam? After fierce discussions, it was finally Caliph Omar, who decided around 634 to adopt this date as the beginning of the Muslim era: the Hijri lunar calendar was born.
During Mohammed’s lifetime, and also in the pre-Islamic era, the calendar included a thirteenth month. Indeed, it was then the Hebrew calendar, luni-solar, which served as a reference. The first day of each month was characterized by the appearance of the new moon! The thirteenth month also enabled the re-alignement of the calendar with the (solar) reality of the seasons. Again, it was Omar, who decided to suppress this thirteenth month, probably to reinforce the identity of a still nascent Islam. From then on, the Hegira calendar became lunar, and distinctive from the others (Hebrew luni-solar, Julian solar …)
Do you find it complicated? Well it is not…. yet. See why in the next paragraph.
The date of Ramadan: why does it change all the time?
As a lunar year is 10 to 12 days less than a solar year, well … the Hijri calendar shortens the years. Thus, every 33 years, the Hegira calendar loses a year compared to the Gregorian calendar. That is why, Ramadan happens to take place in freezing winter, or in blazing summer. But the term « Ramadan » was not created by the Muslims. It derives from the Semitic root « ramida », which is associated to an extreme heat.
It goes back to the pre-Islamic era, when the current calendars were luno-solar, and that the months remained fixed in relation to the seasons. The month of Ramadan was then a hot month. When the Hegira calendar was born, it was decided that it would be the ninth of the year!
Why is the date of Ramadan happens to be set very late ?
It is common that in the Arabian Peninsula, the date of the beginning of Ramadan is only known at the last moment. And besides, even in France, we are not immune to surprises. In 2013, the first day of Ramadan was decreed…before being postponed to the next day ! Why that? Because there are two different approaches .
According to the literalist Muslims (say, the traditional ones), the first crescent moon must be seen visually by an undisputed person. Are there clouds? Or a moon so low on the horizon that it’s not visible? No matter…Then the night will be sorted as a « night of doubt », and Ramadan will start then the next night, when one will be sure to observe the crescent.
But there is also the astronomical method. This is based on scientific calculations, which make it possible to precisely determine the lunar calendar. It is in force for example in Egypt, in Lebanon, in Turkey, in Indonesia … In France, fierce debates are currently ongoing amongst the respectives supporters of each method. The site oumma.com has made a recent very comprehensive article on it – in french language.
On the historical level, the astronomical calculation was instituted in the 11th century in Egypt under the Fatimid caliphate (Shiia), but that the Sunni tradition opposed it, on the grounds that God does not avoid science. .
Historically, modern astronomy owes A LOT to Muslim scientists between the ninth and twelfth century. Because in Islam, besides the determination of the lunar calendar, it was for example very important to know how to fix the hours of prayers according to the sun. And also, it was necessary to be able to determine with precision the direction of Mecca, for the orientation of the prayer and the mosques And indeed, the resolution of these problems can be done only by developing advanced knowledge in celestial mechanics …
Fasting: what is it exactly?
This is an obligationex prescribed in the Qur’an. It appears explicitly, and only in the Sura of the Cow (2, 183 – 187). At night, it is thus possible to drink and eat « until one can distinguish a white thread from a black thread ». This means that you have to start your game well before sunrise … until bedtime. During the youth of the day, it is also explicitly forbidden to have intimate relationships. There are others interdictions, but which constitute later interpretations of the Quran or Hadiths (do not smoke, do not perfume, do not swallow saliva …).
A bit of vocabulary:
Suhur (« souhour »): this is the name of the meal held before dawn, which will allow Muslims to hold all day without eating or drinking. Suhur must end at dawn (remember: when one begins to distinguish the color of a thread by the light of dawn …)
Iftar: it is the meal of rupture of young, which takes place after sunset. This is the opportunity to meet up with family, with friends …This great moment of conviviality occurs right after the sunset prayer (called « maghreb »). Many bedouins here start with absorbing some milk and dates, before actually having the iftar, in order to get their stomach gradually accustomed to food and liquids;
Eid al fitr (« break fast party »): these are the festivities marking the end of the month of Ramadan. It is a great moment of joy and share, and also traditionally of a few days of rest after this period of effort.
Laïlat-al-Qadr (night of destiny): one of the last nights of Ramadan: it is during that night that Muhammad began to receive the divine word by the voice of the angel Gabriel. It has become a night of festivals and night prayers.
Travel tips in Jordan
From a cultural prospective, Ramadan is very interesting period for a visit in Jordan. The atmosphere is very special: calm during the day, but very lively at night. It is definitely the best period to observe how works a society where Islam is paramount, while visiting the country at a different (somehow slower…) pace. Here are a few tips although:
- If you want to stay in a hotel or camp, make sure you choose one with « breakfast included » . If that’s not possible, than make sure to stock up on some food and drinks the night before: As a general rule, anticipate your next tourist spot, buying food and drink before you go;
- During Ramadan even more as usual, the « cultural & religious awareness » rules still apply: sartorial discretion for women (shoulders and thighs in particular), respect for the religious fact in your actions and your words, alcohol « discreet » …;
- Be aware of the evening rush: iftar is a major social moment for Muslims. From an hour before sunset until the middle of the night, the activity is frenetic: shopping, invite of friends or family to dinner (and vice versa)…It looks like every Jordanian has something to do at this particular time. The streets are crowded, and frequent traffic jams. If you want to discover this swarm of life, it’s the right moment. If on the contrary, you wanted to stay calm & quiet … well you had to anticipate!
- On Petra (are there actually people visiting Jordan… without visiting Petra?), the previous rules don’t really apply. You will have no problem finding food and drink there. Here, the rules have been considerably softened by the realities of the tourist business! 🙂
Find out more on culture in our section « the word of the month »:-)