Six different Ramadans from genres, countries, and periods:
1) “Ramadan,” a poem by Khaled Mattawa on Web Del Sol. Of Ramadan’s spent in Libya when The spirits/ of Johnny Walker and gin/ hide in the trunks of white Peugeots./ In the nightclubs of my city, waiters/ serve only non-alcoholic beer/ and belly dancers cover themselves.” Also:
This month the moon becomes a princess.
The stars fan her,
Jupiter pours cups of wine,
Mars sings melancholy mawals.
Bearded men holding prayer beads
and yellow booklets stare at her
and point aching fingers at her waist.
In our house we break a fast
with dates from Huun
and glasses of buttermilk.
Then on to bowls of lamb soup
flavored with mint, trays
of stuffed grape leaves,
spiced fava beans drenched
in olive oil and lemon juice.
And that is only the beginning.
2) A Map of Signs and Scenes: New and Selected Poems: 1979 – 2014, by Amjad Nasser, translated by Fady Joudah and Khaled Mattawa. This is one of ArabLit’s personal Ramadan reads, and one of which Naguib Mahfouz would surely approve. A meditative space in which — between the reader, the translators, and Amjad Nasser — new worlds are created. From the poem “Old Radio”:
My father, a tank officer, warned me never to move the needle too fast, fearing I’d set it loose from its fixed orbit. It stood frozen at Radio Damascus, which the family tuned to only during Ramadan to hear the child-voice of Sheikh Tawfiq al-Munjid reciting the Quran.
3) Zaat, by Sonallah Ibrahim, translated by Anthony Calderbank. This novel was translated into a Ramadan TV series, which uniquely qualifies it as a Ramadan read. Also, Ibrahim’s demi-documentary style, clipping from different historical sources and periods, gives different views of Ramadan:
Ramadan is here again
Special rates to spend the fasting day in air-conditioned
rooms with the latest video releases
4) The Travels of the Man Who Sold Pickles and Sweets, by Khairy Shalaby, translated by Michael Cooperson. A book that opens in not-quite-Cairo, during Ramadan:
The Fatimid caliph Mu’izz had sent me a personal invitation to break the Ramadan fast at his table — or his dining carpet, as the invitation put it. The occasion was the first celebration of the holy month of Ramadan in Cairo, or more exactly the first Ramadan to be celebrated in a city called Cairo. Before Mu’izz, no such place had existed.
5) Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureate, 1994-2001, by Naguib Mahfouz and Mohamed Salmawy. At several points in his reminiscences, Mahfouz looks back on holidays and celeberations, particularly spent in the Egypt of his youth. A short excerpt on Ramadan and reading:
From early boyhood I never studied during the holy month of Ramadan, although this was the month during which I read more than at any other time. My reading, however, had nothing to do with my studies, and reading was my great joy during this month, greater than at any other time of the year. During the fast I could give free rein to my passion for reading, but not for any school literature.
I carried this habit into my adult life, so that I never wrote during Ramadan, just as I never wrote during the summer months. When Ramadan fell in summer, I thus gained one month of writing during the year, as opposed to one month less when Ramadan occurred in winter.
One year, while still a university student, I read the whole of the Holy Qur’an. This was a very special reading, very different from reading it on ordinary occasions. Another year I read the Life of the Prophet by Ibn Hisham, and I remember reading Selected Arabic Literature by Dr. Taha Husayn, Sheikh al-Sakandari and Ali al-Garem, which contained selections of Arabic poetry and prose from the pre-Islamic era to modern times. I also read al-Zayyat’s History of Arabic Literature, as well as a book I greatly treasured containing brief outlines on the histories of Sufi sheikhs and selections of their writings. I remember that during my first years at university I read plays by Bernard Shaw, the poems of T.S. Eliot, and any new publications by Al-Aqqad and al-Mazni. I read the Islamiyat of al-Aqqad and Taha Husayn’s autobiography.
6) The Days, by Taha Husayn, translated by E H Paxton, Hilary Wayment, and Kenneth Cragg. Since Husayn’s autobiography was one of Mahfouz’s Ramadan reads, another view of the month. From The Days:
However, Ramadan drew near, and the people used to meet on Ramadan night in the house of a certain notable of the town, who was a merchant, and ‘Our Master’ used to read the Quran at this man’s house (every night) during the month.