Monday, October 02, 2006

'A house divided cannot stand'

Ramadan Roundup Part I for the Amsterdam Weekly By Sharida Mohamedjoesoef

Dates, pasta, a succulent piece of chicken with lots of garlic, soy sauce, onions, tomatoes and olives. Last night's dinner, if you must know. And I'm telling you--it was simply delicious. I am not a great cook or anything, but the fact is I didn't eat all day, as Ramadan has begun, the holiest month in the Islamic lunar calendar. For 30 days I am not supposed to eat, drink, smoke or have sex between dawn and sunset and stay away from impure thoughts, sights and sounds. You should also know I'm a real push-over when it comes to food, so I'm not sure whether I can keep up all this self-restraint for a whole week, let alone a month. But for now, at least, all went well.

Before your reporter was able to go home and have dinner, however, she was at the Passenger Terminal Amsterdam, where mayor Job Cohen, together with Minister for Administrative Renewal and Royal Relations, Atzo Nicolai, opened the Ramadan Festival. It was a success last year and, judging from the high turnout and the fact that more major cities like Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and Maastricht decided to tag along this year, Ramadan Festival 2006 has all the makings of another success story.

Admittedly, I did see some frowns at the very deft organisation and the richly set dining tables, and hear someone calling it 'a commercialisation of Ramadan'. A teacher from the Islamic primary school As Soeffah felt it was 'a far cry from the idea behind Ramadan, which is about frugal living.' I guess they do have a point. That said, over 150 activities have already been registered on the Ramadan Festival website and it seems as if the Netherlands is finally getting to know its Muslim communities.

And it's about time. After the brutal murder of Theo van Gogh, it had become painfully clear that for decades Muslims and non-Muslims had hardly bonded due to sheer lack of knowledge about the other. It was then that the idea of having a Ramadan Festival was born. And what better place than to kick off the Festival at the modern glass Passenger Terminal--I mean, how transparent can you get?
Hundreds of smartly dressed people, most of them Muslim--and like me probably fairly hungry--were raptly listening to mayor Cohen's speech that underlined the importance of proper dialogue as a way to achieving 'peace'. The mayor lashed out at his opponents, saying 'that dialogue is not something that should be taken lightly or be confused with nice chit chat'.

Given the way the organisers set up this year's activities, there is no getting away from 'dialogue'. For starters, there are the Caravan of Lectures on a variety of topics such as Islamic banking and gender issues. Second, there is the Iftar Estafette, where people can enjoy a traditional Ramadan dinner and participate in a debate. Here, too, the topics are diverse and sometimes even sensitive, like the one on homosexuality in the Netherlands only gay Arabic bar, Cafe Habibi Ana, on 29 September.

On a lighter note, you might one to check out the so-called Hospitality Dinners, where Muslim families treat non-Muslims to a typical Ramadan meal. Ramadan Nights make up the last pillar. It is a definite must if you like comedy, live music and theatre.
Even though this was only day one of Ramadan, the send-off at the Passenger Terminal was great. But ask me again in 30 days' time, with numerous debates, lectures and Ramadan dinners under my belt. That and two or three kilos, I'm afraid.