Challenge of the Month: Ramadan

Albania is about 70% Muslim, with a Catholic minority in the north and Orthodox Christians scattered throughout. My town, Kavajë, is heavily Muslim both by reputation and in truth. Each Friday at the “old mosque”–originally built in the 19th century, destroyed during communism, but re-built recently–there is a live caller that recites prayers for hours, and a steady stream of men and women coming in and out for worship. It’s also not uncommon to see women in full garb, like burkas, and the men sporting traditional beards around town. This is not so common in other areas of Albania I’ve been to.

Morning prayer in the center of Kavaje on Big Bajram

Morning prayer in the center of Kavaje on Big Bajram

So it follows that the Muslim Eid holidays, marking the beginning and end of Ramadan, are a big deal for the practicing Muslims here. Big Bajram and Little Bajram, as they are called, are the most important holidays in the region besides maybe New Year’s. Boys with drums storm the town, pounding away, to signify its approach. There is a mass prayer held in the main square with hundreds of participants and onlookers. And most importantly, everyone spends the day with their families and enjoys a huge feast both to kick off and then to and commence the fasting. (Because what’s a holiday without a bunch of food and your drunk uncle in attendance?)

My Muslim friends in America observed Ramadan, and I know several people in my community who observed last year, and I was both impressed and intrigued. I’d fasted before as part of my own religious traditions (I’m Christian, not Muslim) and, although nagging hunger is not necessarily a pleasant feeling, it was both a physically and mentally cleansing practice that kept me focused. And here I am in my mid-20’s, in the Peace Corps, in the summertime, with a vast space of time ahead of me during which I can experiment.

Also, my goal is to spend the summer writing–like, actually taking the time to write decent stuff–so I could use some focus.

I figured, why not give Ramadan (from June 28-July 28) a shot this year?*

*Disclaimer: I WILL be drinking water. The heat index in the Mediterranean is insane compared to the Mojave Desert, so I can’t live like a careless teenage lifeguard as I once did, skimping on the liquids and sunscreen and all.

**2nd Disclaimer: If I’m traveling or away from my community, I will take a break from fasting.

***3rd Disclaimer: I will not fast on the 4th of July.

****4th Disclaimer: I am already not very good at Ramadan.

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4 responses to “Challenge of the Month: Ramadan

  1. Yep, Kavaja is known to be more Muslim than any other place. I’ve always wondered why. As for the 70% Muslim, that’s a statistic given 100 years ago by the Turkish occupiers and used as reference by foreigners until 2011, when the Albanian government decided to include religion in the Census for the first time. Religion shouldn’t be in the Census or in anything done by a secular state. Anyway, the statistics held by the Albanian government in 2011 showed that the Muslim population is 56% and only a few of this 56% are devoted to religion, more than 90% of this 56% have a more secular approach to religion.

    • That is really interesting, thanks! It does seem, from all the places I’ve traveled here, that Islam is still the dominant tradition though. However, you’re right that not many Albanians strictly practice any religion.

  2. My village town, Divjaka, was Greek Orthodox (kinda) and the smaller villages were Muslim (kinda). Interesting to see how religion has survived in a post-communist / anti-religion history. I appreciate how you challenge yourself and share your insights!

  3. I don’t know you but I feel like I do and I love you! Your blogs and videos are very intriguing. I came across your blog site in search of a friend of mine who just recently went to Swaziland as a PCV and whom I miss terribly! But keep being inspiring and stay inspired, which I have no doubt that will not happen. Best wishes on your journey of Ramadan and Happy 4th!

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