Why would someone deny themselves food and water during daylight hours for the entire month of Ramadan, one might ask?  One word.  Qateyef. (pronounced something like (guh-TAH-yuf). When Ramadan starts, these qateyef grills spring up like mushrooms all over Jordan. Here is the shop of Abu Ali, the best qateyef maker in all of Amman, and the line waiting for his qateyef that stretches five floors down a stone staircase.



And here is how to make them.

Buy a package of freshly made qadeyef at your local Arab store (the mosques ladies make them at home with Aunt Jemima pancake mix).


Put your favorite filling–okay, “favourite”– on half of the qateyef.  Fold it over and pinch the edges together (they are a little bit sticky). On the left is cheese “mostly ricotta” mixed by the bakery (but with a little extra sweet and salt flavor) and on the right is chopped walnuts.

2cheese and walnut

At this point, some Jordanian cooks will float the qateyef briefly in a boiling attar bath.  I don’t do this because 1) they come out too sweet and 2) I can’t keep them from falling apart in the pot.  So I heated these in a pan in the toaster oven. Here is the attar that will get poured over them:


The ingredients are sugar, water, orange flower water, and lemon juice. I guessed at the proportions and it came out perfectly.  Put the warm qateyef on a plate and drench them with the attar. Then enjoy.  Many like to smoke an after iftar argila. This one has apple flavored tobacco (tufaa تفاحة ). The tobacco goes in the top, covered with aluminum foil with holes poked in it.  A glowing piece of charcoal is placed on the top.  In the U.S., argila charcoal is hard to come by, so many use self lighting charcoal that comes in commercially prepared rolls wrapped in aluminum foil.  All you do is remove one perfectly round piece of charcoal, hold it over a lighter or a burner until it is glowing, then put it on top of the aluminum foil.

4qadayef with argila

I am still missing a couple details for Ramadan.  For one thing I haven’t done any charitable works yet, so I will have to start sorting my clothes and find something to donate. The other thing is that one-thirtieth of the Koran is usually read every day, but it is done in a special mosque service called taraweh. The mosque is really too far away to participate in that–on a regular basis at least–so I may have to find a substitute reading activity. Already I have some ideas.

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Contemplating the six days of Shawwal following Ramadan

“Are you ready to become a Muslim now”, my friend’s husband asked me. I laughed. His wife and I had just returned from the mosque where I had listened to a talk about the days following Eid.  After prayers, my friend had showed me how to “make wudu”, the ritual washing before prayers.

Some thoughts from the talk:

  • Some fast for six days during the month of Shawwal following the month of Ramadan.
  • Fasting should not happen during Eid, but there should be a rest between the Ramadan and any new fast.
  • Scholars recommend spreading the six fast days out throughout the month, but some do it all at once to get it over with.
  • Excessive worrying about whether one has been generous enough is a sign that one may be going to Jenna.
  • Story about The Prophet: when he went away from his companions for a while then came back, he told them he had asked Allah that they be permitted to enter heaven and Allah granted that ⅓ would be permitted in Jenna. The Prophet then went back and prayed again and was granted an additional ⅓. Praying a third time the Prophet was granted by Allah that all of the ummah would be granted entrance into Jenna.
  • There are several Zikats (charity gifts?) during Ramadan, but an obligatory one is the one at the end of Ramadan for 2% (or was it 2½ %?) of the money that has been saved during the year.
  • The salat al-layl is a prayer for waking up at night.  You do two rakans or more, in groups of two. If you are not waking up for this prayer it is because you are not living a good enough life.  Try to live a better life and you will be waking up for this.

How to make wudu:

Say, “bismillah, al-rahman al-raheem” (In the name of Allah, the merciful the compassionate). Under running water: Wash right hand then left hand three times.  With right hand rinse mouth with water and wipe front upper gum with forefinger three times. Brush water into nostrils with right hand, brush water downward away from nose three times with left hand. Wipe face with water in a circular motion with right hand three times.   With both hands wet, wipe hair backwards, then rinse hands and wipe hair from underneath. Wash the ears, thumbs behind ears and forefinger in ear three times. Wash arms to the elbow. Wash feet going between each toe. Each time you wash something with a hand, rinse the hand off afterwards. Say “I testify there is no god but Allah” in Arabic. You can dry off if you want, but some like the water.  I can imagine how refreshing this must feel in a 105-degree desert heat.

The six fasting days of Shawwal are supposed to be a highly spiritual time.  So what do I make of it? Why fast? Why wash? I know Islam means submission to Allah, but I like to know why. And you can argue with Allah?–at least if you’re a prophet…And unlike the tithe or the widow’s mite, the proper zikat donation is based on extra money–those living hand to mouth will not be expected to donate. The beginning of Ramadan to me a very special time that I look forward to. The Eid feast is a great excuse to contact people you haven’t seen in a while.  But Shawwal?  I just can’t characterize it.

Note: the calligraphy graphic says “Bismillah al-rahman al-rahheem” (in the name of Allah the merciful the compassionate).

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Fasting music for Ramadan–mystical planets

Yesterday I ran off to class without breakfast and decided that was as good a reason as any to fast for the day. Intention, I thought, remembering the traditional pre-dawn Ramadan prayer to start the day with fasting.

The hardest part of fasting is not the half hour before sunset.  No, that’s a time of high mental concentration as you organize everything to reach your Iftar destination before sunset, make meal preparations, or remember what you have forgotten to do throughout the day.  In this case I was in the garden picking tomatoes near dusk and trying to tell the red tomatoes from the green ones… is this anything like the official Moslem definition of dusk as the time when you can’t tell a black thread from a white one?  And once the magical hour comes and you have taken a couple of dates to break the fast in anticipation of further goodies, a lethargy sets in as you realize you are in for the night and will not likely accomplish anything else on your ‘to do’ list.

The hardest part of the fasting is during the day, when everything you do is a little more sluggish than usual, you periodically realize you are hungry, then in the same instant–intention–remember it’s because you are fasting.  As thinking about anything requires an intentional focus of consciousness, you try to think of what spiritual thing you were trying to accomplish that made you think of fasting in the first place.

It was at this intentionally focused moment in the afternoon I was inspired to want to listen to Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite. Looking it up, I found the traditional order of playing the movements is Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. No Pluto moevment, that was long before Pluto’s discovery and subsequant deplanetization–but you have to wonder what Holst would have made of Eris, Dysnomia, and Discordianism.  There is a recording of the Planet Suite at, but it has errors and sounds terrible on laptop. Another recording by the Peabody Concert Orchestra is available for personal use.

And how to the planets figure into Islam?  Islamic tradition says Abraham’s father Imran was a maker of idols and worshiped the planets.  But Abraham broke from his father’s faith, became a monotheist, and established the original mosque at Mecca centuries before it became a center for pilgrimage for the triple goddess and was later newly discovered by the Prophet.  The region’s shift to Islam meant it was Allah, and not the planets that had mystically created life.

If you want to hear some vintage Holst from after he traveled to Arab lands, including Algerian Sahara, but before he was influenced by Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring,  you can listen to Beni Mora— the movements First Dance, Second Dance, and Finale: in the Street of the Ouled Nails |here|.

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Spiritual recordings for Ramadan 2008

A few days ago I started getting hits on a post I wrote a year ago for Ramadan. It had a lovely “dua” or prayer in Arabic.  But the dua‘s not there anymore –the website has been reorganized. Too bad.  I enjoyed the feeling of peace that emanated from the sound of the prayer and also the feeling of connection to Muslims during their holy season. The disappearance of the dua is a bit like the Hindu sand pictures that remind one of the impermanence of everything.

But Ramadan has come around again, I’ve got guidief in the frig, and I’m fasting today, so here are some picks for this year’s spiritual journey.

For anyone who is homesick for the call to prayer (note: link no longer active) (link is now active as of the first day of Ramadan 2009), here is the city of San’a, Yemen at sunset.

Sheik Abdul Kareem Edghouch reciting the Surat Al-layl( text in Arabic)–“The Night” (English interpretation of text) chapter of the Quran.

From a Pakistani site, a haunting female voice singing Sallu Aliyeh Waa Aleyeh (Mehnaz) in an eastern musical scale. And Madine Ko Jaye (Abdur Rufi), with a male voice, minor tones and strong percussion. If you like those, follow the “religious” subject line backwards and you will find the 99 names of Allah and the call to prayer from various world mosques.

Apparently fasting has its own correct prayers to go with it.  I have found the same formula prayers at two sources.  From the website

Following is a compilation of Duas for Fasting (Ramadan)

– Dua for keeping a fast at the time of Sehar (Niyaat)

Wa bisawmi ghadinn nawaiytu min shahri ramadan

– Dua for breaking a fast at the time of Iftaar

Allahumma inni laka sumtu wa bika aamantu [wa ‘alayka tawakkaltu] wa ‘ala rizq-ika aftarthu*


dhahabadh-dhama’u wab-tallatil ‘uruuqi, wa thabatal arju inshaAllah
Allaahumma inni as�aluka birahmatika al-lati wasi’at kulli shay�in an taghfira li

Dua for breaking a fast at a friends house

Aftara ‘indakumus saa’imuna, wa akala ta’aamakumul-abraaru, wasallat ‘alaikumul mala’ikat

I love it how this person puts both the Arabic and the transliteration together.

Or relax and just listen to this “Beautiful Ramadan Dua’a”–but she uses the Arabic L33T notation so you might not know the pronunciation unless you are familiar with this. I know 3 is the ein letter and I think 7 is the heavier H sound but I don’t know the rest. She also gives some more prayers she calls “authentic” like “Upon seeing the first dates of the season”.

For even more spiritual listening, Al-Hidaaya has a video supplication for every day of Ramadan.

Ramadan Kareem–are you fasting?

“Siama?” the little girl asked me, quite shyly asking a question of the foreign teacher. So far the Jordanian children had tried to touch my blond hair on the bus, or asked other parents why I wasn’t wearing a head scarf while the parents tried to shush them, or even thrown rocks at me, but this was the first time a child had acted like I was just another Jordanian. I had graduated. They say if you live with a people and eat their bread for 40 days you will be become one of them. The child had spoken a deeper truth. I gave her the only possible answer, “Iowa.” Yes, I was fasting.

When I was picking up pita bread in the Arab neighborhood the other day, I saw the guidief and dates and realized it was Ramadan already. Today I have no responsibilities or anyone who will question what I do or don’t eat. Today I will remember that a part of me is still Jordanian and I will fast.

Why fast? “To remind us that Allah asks us to do difficult things,” the religion teacher at my Jordanian girls’ school told me. After bumping into a catholic friend who invited me to church, I listened to a Jordanian priest with different advice, “A lot of you will be fasting along with your neighbors” he said, “If you fast, do it for your own reasons.”

I have watched the fasting traditions of Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox and Ethiopian friends. They might fast from all food and water, only certain types of meat, or only on certain days. My own religion does not follow any fasting tradition now, but John Wesley once belonged to a devout university group that fasted on certain days. Unfortunately I don’t know anything more about that tradition. So the fast I am following today is from all food starting at sunrise–okay, I cheated by a half hour–and okay, I had pork on my breakfast sandwich, but wahada u wahada (one thing at a time). I will limit water, but not absolutely. I no longer smoke, so that part won’t be as difficult today.  I am unlikely to come in contact with a male I might have to shake hands with or touch in the course of social interaction, so no danger there. And then I will think about my reasons for fasting.

Reasons for fasting.

1. Tradition. None of us is born is a vacuum. We inherit traditions and religious beliefs from the generations that preceded us. At first we follow blindly, then we keep the useful traditions. Tradition gives us a link to the past and a link with other cultures.

2. Awareness.  How much of what we do is by routine?  Ramadan breaks the routine, yes, but we also go back to follow a different routine we already know from previous Ramadans. Are you used to having coffee or tea available next to your laptop? Now you become aware of what you have been putting in your mouth.  Do you accidentally brush against strangers on the street when it’s crowded?  Now be aware of who you bump into and what gender they are, as Jordanians are constantly aware of who is next to them on the street. Do you lose track of whether it is light or dark outside? If you can’t eat until the sun goes down, now you will have reason to ask for the time of sunrise (Fajr) and the adhan or call to prayer a half hour before, and the time of sunset (Magreb) and to be aware of the sun’s transit. As I think about fasting in other years, I wonder if the reason I was finally able to break the smoking habit was because of the Ramadan fasts.   We will see how many of the temporary Ramadan habit changes will carry over.

3.  Iftar.  Yes, the food.  Iftar (breakfast at sunset) after a day of fasting is one big party in Jordan.  It’s not a party that happens in sleazy clubs either, it’s a family party. And Christian Arabs have absolutely no problem eating the guidief and other Ramadan sweets that come out at this time. I have my dates (Tunisian and not the premium Saudi dates) ready to break the fast, and I have my guidief pancakes ready for tonight’s meal. Today I will stuff them with the walnut/coconut/ cinnamon mixture or the sweet cheese–yes I have soft cheese (Danish!) in a can. Oh, and I have to boil the syrup made from water, sugar, lemon, and orange flower water.  Yum.

Ramadan Kareem: a Ramadan Dua

I’ve been looking for a little Ramadan Kareem symbol to put in my widgets for the month of Ramadan, but I’m having some sort of problem opening my widgets. The best I can gather from the blogosphere is that that latest version of Firefox is doing something to Javascript, whatever that is.

So until I can figure out what that is, or more likely until they can figure it out, here is something called a Ramadan Dua. [UPDATE: Link no longer active.] I’m not quite sure what a dua is, but this one seems to be a sort of prayer. I kind of like it, both for the Arabic and for the sentiments expressed.


Dua is the following (Arabic):

Allah hooma inee auldubika

il hami, wa il hahden

wal agitee, wa kasal

wal toopamee, wa joobnahl

wal broohal, ghalabit il daimee al rijel

(repeat it)

English translation:

Allah, by you from all the ways

from all sadness, from laziness

from being helpless, from being coward

from fear, from being stingy,

from the overwhelming of the national debt, and from the oppression of men

I know I don’t have the Arabic exactly right, but if your Arabic is good enough to tell that, you probably know what it says already.

Ramadan Kareem.
2009 UPDATE: Audio for new dua and prayers |here|.This was for Ramadan 2008 but I have checked the links for 2009 to make sure they’re still active.