It’s Ramadan, and anyone who has spent time in the Muslim world knows that the holiday month is indeed a special time. During the day, the streets are eerily quiet; the hustle and bustle of everyday living seems to stop. At night, the cities come alive, with families doing their grocery shopping at 1 A.M. in order to avoid food shopping while hungry; charity events are ubiquitous, bringing forth every walk of life; and most of all, people just seem in a nicer mood.
When I was in Jordan, this time of year reminded me greatly of Jewish holidays in Israel. Families flew in from all over the world; girls and boys rushed home to help their parents prepare Ramadan feasts, and grocery stores were packed almost every day. Ramadan tents were erected all over Amman, allowing the poor and others to break the fast together.
The whole country was in holiday mode, like Israel during Passover. Everyone seemed motivated - donating money to charity, giving meals to the poor, and focusing on reflecting on the holiday. While social events among friends were tabled to the amorphous space of “after Ramadan”, families got together to watch soap operas or movies made especially for the holiday. Just like in Israel during Passover, where families were particularly welcoming, inviting me to join their family seder - where they were already hosting dozens of guests - and making a conscious effort to donate to charity. It’s remarkable how both holidays felt so similar.
That is why I am always especially disappointed to read articles on Ramadan that focus on the negative: from anti-Jewish TV shows that make excellent blog fodder, to right-wing conservatives posting articles that portray Ramadan in the most damaging of lights. The holidays should be a time of calm rather than the eye of the storm.
All year long, there’s a perpetual family fight between Jews and Muslims: ad wars on subways, food fights, and arguments; rhetoric, turf battles and in fighting that resembles high school cliques rather than civilized adults having nuanced political discussions. Why, during the holidays, isn’t the media full of symbols of unity? Wouldn’t it be lovely to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu breaking a Ramadan fast with a Muslim leader? How about the King of Jordan joining a Rosh Hashanah meal? Think of how powerful it is to see U.S. President Barack Obama sitting at a White House Passover seder each year.
My Arabic teacher, who was a Jordanian Muslim, often referred to Jews as “cousins,” and I have heard Jewish Israelis referring to Muslim Arabs in the same way. Why don’t we try treating each other like family - and take the holidays as a time for reconciliation, charity, and communal meals?
Yael Miller is a professional working in International Affairs in Washington, DC.