Ramadan Kareem from the Middle East!
By Amy Kyleen Lute – KF15, Jordan
Today, August 1st, is the first day of Ramadan! For the next month, Muslims across the world will be fasting – letting nothing pass through their lips – from sunrise to sunset. Though I’ve spent a decent amount of time in the Arab world, this is my first experience of Ramadan living in a Muslim country.
Ramadan, for people here, means many things. For some it is a welcomed change of routine, more time with family and an opportunity to be continually reminded of their dependence on God. For most it is not an option. (It is actually illegal – though not thoroughly enforced – for shops to allow patrons to eat publicly during the day.) I’m not sure there is anything more foreign to Westerners accustomed to secular society than an entire population – the nerds, the bros, the liberals, the loyalists, the wealthy, the poor, the players, the educated, the spiritually indifferent – to participate in a religious custom; for religious adherence to be the norm. Though for some participants, I suspect, it doesn’t necessarily have as much of a religious impetus as we might assume given our secular and cultural bias. Here, actively participating in Ramadan may not engender theological discussions or denote particular piety, it may come out of a simpler, more community-oriented mindset that, as Muslims, during Ramadan, this is how we act.
For Kiva borrowers, life is altered in similar ways as the rest of the society. Their loan repayments are still due, though many of their businesses are closed or, more likely, operate on restricted hours – beginning later in the day and closing earlier in the afternoon with some, depending on the type of business, reopening late into the night to try to capture some additional action surrounding iftar, the breaking of the fast after sundown. Profits for small businesses and shops vary: for some business suffers from the decrease in out-of-home activities and for others Ramadan is a highly profitable month due to the nightly celebrations of family and food. During my work with KIEDF, an Israeli microfinance institution serving mostly Arab, Muslim clients, they explained that many borrowers will make two payments the month before Ramadan so they don’t have to pay during the Holy Month. It is also normal for microfinance institutions to be more lenient about early and late payments this month. For clients of Tamweelcom, another Kiva Field Partner in Jordan, clients have additional incentive to pursue good standing with their MFI. As part of their social mission, nearly 170 high-achieving clients were selected to celebrate the beginning of Ramadan with an all-expenses-paid trip to do Umrah, a pilgrimage to Mecca similar to Hajj except that it can be done at any point throughout the year.
For me, besides making it more difficult to find a taxi and virtually impossible to eat out or in public during the day, Ramadan is going to be a fascinating window into the lives of a few of the hundreds of Muslim Kiva borrowers in Jordan. I have many field visits scheduled in these next couple of weeks, which I anticipate will be somewhat hindered but simultaneously enhanced by customs of the Holy Month. My experience and understanding of the Jordanian people, Kiva borrowers and friends who are partaking in this dramatic routine-altering tradition wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t participate – even if only for a day – in solidarity with my current community. Thus far I have only been refraining – not really by choice – from things that are hard to open and difficult to eat as I recently fractured both of my wrists and now have huge casts on both arms limiting my digital mobility! I suspect this new intention, while potentially including similar frustrations, will shift my ever-changing perspective. I am excited to separate and combine sacrifice with celebration in communion with so many others doing the same.