Have a fabulous 2012


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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ramadan ( Month of Fasting) in Korea

Iftar at a Mosque

Ramadan is just around the corner and hence, a post.

Principles of Ramadan across the countries, cultures and families are the same: time for inner reflection, devotion to God, self-control and cleansing of body and mind however, the celebrations varies from place to place and people to people.

Muslims fast (do NOT eat from dawn to dusk) during Ramadan. Young and old, men and women everybody wants to fast but then there are exceptions to the rule for those who shouldn't be fasting. It is observed at a national level in Pakistan and culturally, there is a prohibition of eating in public, even if one doesn't fast for whatever reasons. Rules are NOT as strict as is the Middle East: nobody's sent to jail or heads are shaved, though.

In Islam, religion is not limited to the private life but instead, it is often exhibited publicly through social obligations and rights. Over the years, we have really twisted a few things while practicing this idea but I don't want to rant about it now.

I think my best Ramadan was when I was a kid while living in Pakistan. A Ramadan day used to start with sirens for Sheri ( also called Suhoor) and the fast used to start with the Fajar Azzan  (also called Adhan) at dawn and ends with Magrib Azzan at dusk. There was always a lot of excitement in just waking up at Suhoor (also called Sehri) and I guess waiting was the essence of it all.

A lot of different varieties of mouth watering food was prepared that we only used to get in Ramadan and the taste always seemed enhanced, magically. It was a full blown family reunion thing, first ever fast was celebrated as a party for anyone turning 12 years old or sometimes even  much younger, reciting of Quran every morning and afternoon, Tarveeh (Tarawhee), and  of course, endless shopping to celebrate Eid (Eidul Fitr or Idul Fitri) - which follows Ramadan were some of the initials. On the last day of Ramadan, we, the girls,  used to have Mehndi/ Henna. I still remember, we all used to go out in the lawns and used to try our luck to track the new moon for Shawwal to celebrate Eid and to say adios to Ramadan but then with time, TV took over the tradition of moon sighting and people started to wait in  front of TVs to hear if the moon is sighted or not.  Dang :-(

Anyhow, new clothes, shoes, sweets, gifts, money given to kids by the elders in the family, sharing life with the less fortunate and making sure to give Fitra (charity) was very important for ever household irrespective of their economic standings. Over all, we as Muslims are obliged to give charity, repent sins, make an effort to do good deeds, read Quran and act on it as well, pray, and offer iftar (breaking of the fast) to those who fast are some of the basics of Ramadan.

I still remember that neighbors used to share their Iftari (special  food prepared to break fast) with others living in the same street or invite guests on Thursdays and  Fridays. Extra food was also prepared to share with those who fasted and those who could not afford it. Special Iftari was prepared to send to mosques where a lot of people used to gather to break fast. Markets and bazaars used to bustle with people. It was beautiful times and Pakistan was also a wonderful place to live unlike now.

Then what happened? Actually,  Globalization hit us as an epidemic and people started moving to other countries more often than not. Families broke down and dispersed. We also moved out and then experienced an entirely different Ramadan from country to country where we got to live. I will specifically talk of my Ramadan experience in Seoul, South Korea since I've spent 10 Ramadans here, seriously!

One thing is that Ramadan is NOT a public affair anymore. It is an individual/private affair. I still remember that I was taking an exam on Eid day (Eid has the same importance as Chuseok or Christmas for some). It was  a strange feeling. Unlike Pakistan, no short working hours, no Azzans (Adhan) to be heard, not much celebration to see at a mass scale but the good news is: if you want to feel/experience Ramadan then stop by Seoul Central Mosque in Itaewon. The Itaewon's mosque neighborhood has an air  of festivity and of the holy month. Fridays are very special there but almost every day of Ramadan is good. Seoul Central Mosque offers Sahoor, Iftar and Taraveeh. Many embassies as well as Muslim businessmen and others contribute to keep the traditions going. Seoul Mosque offers separate services for women and men . Itaewon's Muslim restaurants from Pakistan, Turkey, Bangladesh and the Middle East also offer free Iftar. Sometimes, Embassies also offer Iftar for it's nationals. Uzbek, Malaysian and Indonesian embassies are amongst them.

At a personal level, local people are quite curious about Ramadan and wants to know more. For many, it is their first time to actually meet somebody fasting and they are quite concerned about it in a good way. Many of your friends or colleagues would ask you all sort of questions so be prepared. I was surprised when friends prepared special food for me despite the fact that they were NOT Muslims and they told me that Eid is a national holiday in the Philippines. Philippines: you rock! A few Koreans wondered why we do NOT fast the year round? 

 I know that Ramadan at home and homeland is an entirely different story however, there are many ways in which you can enjoy it while still away from home. Invite friends from other Muslim countries to join you. You can offer a place to invite others fasting in your neighborhood to gather together for Salat (Namaz), preparing food together for Iftar and organize your Taraveeh in case you live far away from Itaewon. Even if you are living closeby it is NOT necessary that you'd be able to make it to Itaewon. Try to be innovative and use your skills and follow the old school of celebrating Ramadan, meaning spirit of sharing and giving!

Wish you a happy and gracious Ramadan.

To dig further:

Namaz or Salat Times (also:Ramadan/Ramazan Schedule) for the month of Ramadan, 2012 in Seoul, Korea: click HERE

How to get to Itaewon Central Mosque: click HERE

List of Mosques in South Korea: click HERE

How to get to Daegu Mosque/Islamic Center: click HERE and scroll down to comments.

How to get to Daejeon Mosque and Islamic Center: click HERE

Blog posts on Ramadan in Korea by an Indonesian is here and a Malaysian is here. Very interesting writeups.

MosqueKBS documentary on "Muslims in Korea" : HERE and Arirang's Islam in Korea HERE (Interview with the Imam of Jeonju Mosque).

A YOU TUBER has uploaded a very nice video  HERE on Seoul Central Mosque, its governing body and the neighborhood per se.