“The trials of life bring you closer to the faith again”

Ramadan Calendar
‘There are 5.6 million Muslims in this country (Germany) and around half of us fast, so it’d be nice not to have to explain ourselves again every year,’ says Inas Ali Zeidan (image: Robert Haas)

Finding your way back to yourself and to God, doing good, appreciating the community: four Muslims in Germany explain what the fasting month of Ramadan means to them and why they would rather not have to keep explaining themselves over and over again!


Ramadan is the time to switch everything to reset,” says Inas Ali Zeidan. The 39-year-old is a recruiter for the automobile sector. “The first days are tough, until you get back into it. But it’s a valuable time. You take a step back mentally and physically and concentrate fully on God and leading a good life,” she says. Thirty days of fasting is “quite full-on”, but it makes the evenings with family and friends all the more precious, she says.

She wishes Ramadan enjoyed a higher profile in German society. “There are 5.6 million Muslims in this country and around half of us fast, so it’d be nice not to have to explain ourselves again every year,” she says. As a HR manager, she sees how companies deal with their Muslim employees and knows that there are huge differences.

“Some more diverse companies have set up prayer rooms and officially wish their staff a blessed Ramadan – just as they would wish them a happy Christmas or Easter at other times of the year.” This is diversity in action and promotes a sense of togetherness, says Zeidan.

 

Headshot of a woman (Inas Ali Zeidan) wearing a headscarf and smiling
Inas Ali Zeidan from Garching, near Munich, works in recruiting (image: Catherina Hess)

At a time where there’s a shortage of skilled labour, initiatives such as these are becoming increasingly important. There are, however, other companies that still expect their Muslim employees to have lunch along with everyone else during Ramadan. “More flexibility would be really helpful here. And in any case, fasting for health reasons is currently in vogue and that could be a topic of conversation across cultural or religious boundaries.”

Cleansing the heart

Mohamed Hamse Iriksous is a political scientist, taxi company owner, imam at the Al-Ahibbah Mosque in Munich and member of the Munich Council of Muslims. The fasting month, he says, is the chance “to update one’s connection with God.” It’s about regaining control of how you live your life, which has perhaps slipped off course during the previous year. In any case, it’s a time to do good and donate to the needy, “cleansing the heart – this is a familiar concept in Christianity and Judaism.”

The 31-year-old, who was born in Kiel in the far north of Germany, says he’s felt close to his faith since childhood. His father is half Syrian, half German; his mother Syrian. But there was a time in the life of the imam when his relationship with God was tested, he says, namely when he was diagnosed with a chronic illness.

“But in the end, it’s precisely these trials of life that bring you closer to the faith again,” he says, adding that the fasting does him good. Almost all his Muslim friends fast, he says “even those who don’t pray or go to the mosque.” He’s also got friends who drink alcohol in nightclubs if they fancy it. “But when Ramadan comes around, they take part because it’s such an important ritual for Muslims.”

For some, the religious aspect is the most important. For others, it’s more about the cultural experience, he explains. “Special TV series are broadcast during Ramadan in Muslim countries and the whole family watches them together in the evenings.”

 

Mohamed Hamse Iriksous
Mohamed Hamse Iriksous says that Ramadan is an opportunity ‘to update one’s connection with God’ and cleanse the heart – a familiar concept in Christianity and Judaism (image: suppplied)

Colleagues show consideration for each other

Almir Burnić tries to eschew food and drink during the day during Ramadan. “This is a time when I’m more self-aware,” he says. The 28-year-old carer came to Munich from Bosnia-Herzegovina nine years ago to do his training and works as a residential manager at the St. Maria retirement and nursing home run by the Munich Foundation.

He manages a team of 30. He estimates that at least half of his colleagues come from the former Yugoslavia, with others from Tunisia, West Africa and other parts of the world. There are many Muslims among them. “Some fast the whole month, others have a more relaxed attitude and only fast for 10 days, and some don’t fast at all,” he says.

During Ramadan he endeavours to consider the needs of those who are fasting, for example when drawing up work schedules. It’s not that easy, “but once you’ve get the hang of it, it usually works out fine.” He gives fasting colleagues less physical tasks, for example, or considers the fasting period when assigning shifts.

“We tend to favour night or late shifts for the Muslims during Ramadan, although we mustn’t be too accommodating, after all fasting is a conscious choice,” says Burnić. Because everyone knows each other well, it’s usually no problem. “Our team members are very appreciative of one another,” and that’s why non-Muslim colleagues are happy to cover a shift for someone who’s fasting. It’s almost like a family, he says.

And at the end of the month, when people all over the world are celebrating Eid, there’s also a special meal laid on in the Munich Foundation canteen: lamb stew, fish, baklava and other sweets.

 

Almir Burnić
Of his colleagues, many of whom are Muslim, Almir Burnić says that ‘some fast the whole month, others have a more relaxed attitude and only fast for 10 days, and some don’t fast at all’ (image: Catherina Hess)

Breaking the fast with dates

The owners of the River restaurant in Sendling offer a Ramadan menu every year. The first breaking of the fast was on Monday, 11 March at 6.29pm, at sunset. First, everyone gets a date, that’s tradition: “because that’s what the Prophet did and because dates are said to have a cleansing effect on the body,” explains Melita Hrnjica. 

Then there’s a soup to warm the stomach, followed by traditional Bosnian dishes such as stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage leaves or ražnjići (Balkan kebabs). “You absolutely must reserve a table, because the restaurant gets really busy at this time of the year,” she says.

Guests include families with children, young people meeting to break the fast, but also single men who need to eat something substantial after a day of fasting. “It’s always an especially lovely, peaceful atmosphere, when everyone sits down together after sunset during Ramadan. It creates a special sense of closeness,” she adds.

 

Narcis (right) and Melita Hrnjica
Narcis (right) and Melita Hrnjica offer a Ramadan menu in their restaurant in the Sendling district of Munich (Foto: Catherina Hess)

Friends and family members help out in the kitchen and front-of-house so that the restaurant owners can also enjoy something of the evening themselves. This is also a special time for the children, says Hrnjica. “Our children are growing up open-minded citizens; they know about Christmas and Easter from kindergarten and school, and then there’s Ramadan.” The children don’t fast yet. They only start once they hit puberty. “When that time comes, we’ll leave it up to them whether they want to fast or not,” she says.

The parents don’t eat or drink all day – not so easy when you’re working in a restaurant. But the body adapts and ultimately, says Melita Hrnjica, it’s a mental challenge. “I think of all the many people in the world who have nothing and of how lucky we are here. My husband and I lived through the war in Bosnia in the 1990s; we’re refugee children. We’re thankful for what we have today. During the month of fasting, you can be even more appreciative of the fact that you get something warm to eat every day.”

Martina Scherf
© Süddeutsche Zeitung 2024
Translated from the German by Nina Coon


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