Mitchell Bowden

It’s 2:37am.

I’m in the eighth row of a community college lecture hall listening to Moroccan teens singing Bruno Mars and Beyonce in endearing broken English. It’s the middle of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month and as I struggle to stay awake for the open mic-style entertainment, the vitality of those around me erupts. Bounds between artist and audience blur and before I know it, I’m in a full-on immersive performance, a collective celebration. My wife and I muster our remaining energy to get on our feet and join the fiesta before calling it a night – or morning. We emerge onto the Casablanca street with our local hosts where we’re affronted by a dense, oppressive wall of air. Oh yeah, it’s summer in North Africa!

Some four hours earlier, after enjoying a traditional iftar (the breaking of fast during Ramadan) with our hosts, we headed out. At the time, my mind computed the sensory input as chaos. Children were playing with uncontrolled glee in the street. Their parents stood nearby – not in line to buy something or awaiting their transport home, just standing, unperturbed, joyful even, socialising with others over mint tea. Taxis darted across lanes, criss-crossing in nail-biting synchronicity, narrowly avoiding carnage. Music, colour and laughter filled all space around us.

After working with Muslims for many years, I knew Ramadan’s sacred position in the Islamic calendar and its intensely introspective practices. As such, I’d assumed it was a slow month, full of quiet breathing. Of contemplation. So, I couldn’t reconcile what I was now seeing. Why aren’t these kids in bed? Doesn’t everyone have work tomorrow? Aren’t we the ones on holiday?

Noticing my confusion, our beautiful friends used our commute for a Ramadan-101.

Last meal before 5:15am when the sun rises.

First meal (iftar) 15.5 hours later at sundown - 8:45pm.

In between, a steady diet of prayer, gratefulness and conscious solidarity with fellow Muslims.

No water or food unless you’re an infant, unwell, frail, pregnant or ageing.

And after 8:45pm, party and consume as much food and non-alcoholic beverages as you want until sunrise.

“During Ramadan it’s like our day flips. We rest, sleep and some even work shorter hours during the day. But then when night comes, after iftar, when we have done our prayers we want to be out, together. Ramadan gives us the energy we need to do this.”  

Now, as we stand outside the community college and I recalibrate my internal compass to determine which direction my bed is, I pause in shudder to think, only hours earlier I’d (mis)interpreted this sensory input as chaos. Now I see the vivacity as nothing other than layer on layer of learned cultural richness, and of unbridled joy. Not Instagrammable #bestlyfe moments, or witty journey-of-self-discovery Facebook statuses; but real, authentic contentment and bliss. What a difference a few hours and a couple of Beyonce bangers can make! If only my body clock’s time-zone identity crisis wasn’t steering me away from it, towards slumber.


All story rights belong to Mitchell Bowden.