With family, in the mosque, in the square: it is the month of Ramadan

For observant Muslims, fasting and deprivation during the day must be reconciled with the urban rhythms of study and work. Then the celebration of the ‘interruption’ with joy and gifts. And to establish the beginning of the period, traditionally always looks at the moon, but also at social networks…

By Paola Lupi

For the inhabitants of the Esquilino area it is now a tradition: in Piazza Vittorio, every year, the sidewalk on the north side of the gardens turns into an open-air mosque. The asphalt is covered with carpets on which the faithful kneel, with orderly rows of shoes at the corners… thus a multitude of Muslims celebrate Eid al-Ftir (the feast of interruption), the common prayer that marks the end of Ramadan. The ritual continues in homes and meeting places of the various communities with banquets, the exchange of gifts, new clothes worn for the occasion: the joy of the renewed spirit is shared after the month of abstinence. On this occasion, Islamic communities from all over the world open up to the cities in which they live and in Rome, one of the places chosen is our neighborhood, which hosts Muslims of different ethnic groups. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, it is dedicated to fasting, one of the five fundamental precepts of Islam (the five pillars), to which all the faithful are called. Exceptions are sick, elderly, diabetics, children, pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating women. The start date of Ramadan changes every year, because it is established only “at sighting of the moon”. That is, a visual confirmation of the rising of the new moon is necessary.

You need a full load of energy
before starting daily activities

Fatiha, who has been in Italy for 24 years, comes from Morocco and has always lived on the Esquiline with her family. Three children, now adults, who practice fasting with their parents every year, reconciling it with work and study commitments. Before sunrise, a rich breakfast based on milk, dried fruit, dates, figs, foods that give you the energy you need to face the day. Then, in the evening, a substantial meal: soup, meat and sweets. Not for her children, Fatiha points out, “They eat Italian food and the dishes are different. However, food is not an obsession, we don’t think about it, the sense of fasting is in the mind, and if you experience it that way, it is not a burden”. Fatiha is keen to underline the spiritual significance of Ramadan, which is a month of prayer and mercy. “Ritual charity is a religious duty. We must practice charity, donate to those in need. My son, in those days, goes out every evening and brings food to those who have nothing to eat, to those who have no home”. Mark, on the other hand, arrived from Bangladesh in 1998 and runs a café in via Machiavelli. He explains that the month of Ramadam is a sort of “check-up” that every observant Muslim carries out once a year. In those days, to strengthen the spirit, strict self-control is practiced which, in addition to giving up water and food, means not doing bad actions, not giving in to anger, the desire to smoke or to have sex. “All of us, integrated into the working and social life of the city, cannot change our commitments. We only eat and drink before dawn, so we get up very early. Then we go directly to work and only at sunset, after the long evening prayer, we can eat and rest. In our countries, during Ramadan, many activities stop, working hours change and cities come alive only in the evening”.

‘Mubarak’ which means “happy holiday”
is the wish that Muslims exchange for Eid al-Ftir

It is late afternoon and the faithful arrive for evening prayers in the mosque in Piazza Vittorio, adjacent to the church of Sant’Eusebio. Someone agrees to answer me and tell how Ramadan lives on the Esquilino. Kamal tells me that last year he asked his employer to be able to leave an hour earlier on those days, since he doesn’t have a lunch break. “He said no, and I felt bad about it”. Zahid, a Pakistani, works in the market and confesses that he struggles to stand on his feet during those days. In Rome he is alone and for the evening meal he meets here with other young faithful. When will you know the exact start day of Ramadan? I ask. “Thanks to social media, we all find out when the sighting of the new moon is communicated, even if there is already an estimated date, so it won’t take us by surprise!” And they invite me to participate in the Eid al Fitr banquet: the feast that breaks the fast is open to the whole neighborhood.