Celebrating the start of Ramadan at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris

Dates are traditionally served because the prophet Muhammed is said to have broken his fast by eating three of them.

Bread, cheese, boeuf bourguignon, onion soup, confit de canard, steak frites, macarons. The exquisite array of food is one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of Paris. But imagine if your religion forbade you to eat or drink from before the start of dawn until sunset. That's a long time, especially on July 21 when the sun rises around 6:11 a.m. and sets at approximately 9:43 p.m. Following the dictates of their religion, not a morsel of food or a drop of liquid passed the lips of most Muslims yesterday because it was the beginning of Ramadan, a period of 29 or 30 days during which Islamic belief instructs adherents to turn their hearts away from worldly activities to cleanse the soul and free it from harmful impurities. Only the elderly, the chronically ill and the mentally insane are exempt from fasting, as are pregnant women and those nursing babies or menstruating. All other Muslims must refrain from eating to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice and empathy for those who are less fortunate.

Notice all the glasses - liquid refreshment is very important when you haven't had anything to drink all day.

After experiencing five Ramadans in Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, I decided to request a couple of invitations for the annual soirée hosted by Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, at the Hôtel de Ville and join the Muslim community as they broke their first fast.

Seeing all of the people listening to the concert in the magnificent Salle des Fêtes and patiently waiting for the moment when they could eat reminded me of when we made the mistake of moving from one house to another in Indonesia during Ramadan. Imagine the movers, who were carrying heavy furniture and working in the tropical heat, adamantly refusing to drink or eat because it was against their religion. In between worrying that one of them would succumb to exhaustion or that they would drop our heavy teak furniture, I admired their conviction.

Just as in Indonesia, there was a great sense of elation with the setting of the sun and the breaking of the fast last night.

As if by magic, everyone suddenly descended on the buffet tables just after the sun set.
As soon as their bodies were fortified, everyone returned to the Salle des Fêtes to dance to the tunes of Fanfaraï, a brass band with a profusion of trumpets, saxophones, a trombone and a tuba. With eleven musicians of various cultural backgrounds, they play energetic North African music by skillfully blending brass, traditional percussion, arabo-berber, afro-cuban, latin and jazz sounds.

Happy Ramadan! And best wishes to the hundreds of Muslim athletes who have decided to fast while competing at the Olympic Games in London.



Comments

  1. How very interesting--that you attended the soiree and also that athletes are fasting during a competition. How exactly do you get an invitation from the Mayor--were you "Press"? Is it a lottery?

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    1. Oh, how I wish that I could get a press pass. It sure would help for taking photos! I got the invitation the same way that all of the other people did, I went to the town hall and requested two when I saw that they were hosting the event. The Paris.fr website is a great resource for finding out about almost all of the events that are happening in the city and they had an announcement inviting people to the Ramadan evening. I wasn't sure if they would allow a non-French person to go but there weren't any problems when I showed them my Swiss passport. I thought that going with the Swiss rather than the American one would give me a better chance if there was a problem. My ticket was number 347. I don't know how many they gave out.

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  2. Oh wait, I knew there was something about the photos which I couldn't quite place my finger on: there are no head coverings on the women. I know, I know, it's not mandatory, but I wonder if the new French law regarding conservative Muslim attire is a factor at such an event.

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    1. Now that I think about it, I didn't see any women wearing head coverings. Perhaps the more conservative Muslims didn't attend. What was most interesting to me is that many of the people were Europeans. At first, I thought that they were there just to enjoy the evening but then I overheard them saying that they had fasted all day.

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  3. As always MK you never cease to amaze me with the unique activities you attend in Paris! I can't imagine fasting for that long (i've never actually done a true detox). Looks like a great celebration!

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    1. While I was looking for some info for this post, I came across a study done in the UAE that found that fasting during Ramadan could reduce the risk of heart disease. From the study:

      The study concluded that the UAE group’s average LDL or the bad cholesterol decreased significantly during the fast, while the average HDL or good cholesterol increased, resulting in a significant improvement of the HDL/LDL ratio in spite of increased BMI.

      I guess that there's something to be said for fasting, although I'm like you and can't imagine fasting for such a long time.

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  4. Absolutely fantastic Mary Kay. I marvel at the wonderfully rich experiences you report.

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    1. Thanks, Baron. I'm so thankful to live in Paris at this stage of my life so that I can take advantage of the diverse activities that the city offers. The only problem is that there's always so much to do!

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  5. That looks fabulous! I love large, festive cultural events (especially with food, bubbly and live music to dance to)! I love your photos. Yes, kudos to the Muslim athletes!

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    1. Me, too! Take me to a cultural event and I'm a happy camper. :)

      Even if they don't fast during the Olympics, the devout Muslim athletes will make-up their fasts after they're finished competing or they will donate 60 meals for the poor in compensation for every day of Ramadan that they miss.

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    2. oh that's an interesting fact. I wonder where that compensation came from.

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    3. That particular compensation came from an athlete's discussion with a cleric. Some of the other athletes will defer their fast until after the games because under Islamic law, Muslims are allowed to postpone their fast when they're traveling. I've always been interested to see how people of different faiths interprete certain tenants, like the Amish and the use of electricity.

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  6. What a. Fascinating report. I had forgotten it is the start of Ramadan
    I have several muslin friends and colleguee and iof course clients as I live in an area with a large Muslim population.

    I have often thought u would join them in the fast. But I rhink I will wait till Ramadan is in winter

    Ironically our local council does nothing like this. I applaud the mayor of Paris

    Denise
    Love from Bolton

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    1. Fasting during the winter would definitely be the preferable way to go. I can't imagine 16 hours without a drink of water!

      I also applaud the mayor of Paris for hosting the Ramadan soiree.

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