On Eids and Exams

Ramadan will be ending this week, but nobody knows when exactly.

As I understand it, because the Islamic calendar is based on the moon rather than the sun (as in the Gregorian calendar), the beginning of new months is tied to when the new moon occurs. Religious (and national) leaders observe the moon and it is not until they physically recognize the new moon that they will acknowledge the end of one month and beginning of the next. Thus, we wait with the awareness that the Eid (celebration for the end of Ramadan) will take place on Thursday or Friday, but we won’t know exactly until the night before. (Side note: There are some interesting ways in which the date of the new moon has been contested by some Muslims for political reasons. Rather than recognizing the Eid date announced for a particular country [not all countries observe the Eid on the same day], some people may opt to recognize the date for the Eid that was not selected in order to express opposition to the political and/or religious leadership.)

I’m afraid I don’t know a whole lot on this interesting issue, but from my perspective as a student during Ramadan, the uncertainty of the date for the Eid has led to some interesting moments of confusion as our program draws to a close and we schedule our final events: exams, due dates for term projects, quizzes, when we’ll be holding class and when we’ll have the day off, and so on. Coming from a culture in which work and school events tend to be planned out fairly strictly and far in advance, this uncertainly can be a headache; students expect a syllabus outlining due dates for assignments while teachers cannot provide them with any certainty.

Rather than getting too frustrated with this difference, however, I actually find the uncertainty somewhat refreshing. It reminds me of the oft-heard phrase insha’ Allah (“if God wills it”), which is often said to express the English idea of “hopefully” but also to punctuate comments made by others about their hopes or plans. For example, I might say “I’d like to go Fez this weekend” and a friend or family member might tag “insha’ Allah” on to the end of it. It’s often appropriate for me to then affirm the sentiment and reply with “insha’ Allah.” Whereas it seems to me that it’s more common among Americans for the original speaker (e.g., me) to say “hopefully” when talking about the future, in Morocco there is more verbal feedback from others involved in the conversation. (This back-and-forth relationship is reflected in music too, as call-and-response passages are a common formal component of most Moroccan musics.)

What I find beautiful about “insha’ Allah” is that it recognizes that humans can’t control everything in their lives, which is, in my view, totally anathema to American sensibilities about individual agency. Americans might express a roughly parallel idea when they say “shit happens,” but that phrase is far from being as prevalent in American conversations as the Moroccan expression, which will be uttered dozens of times daily. (I hesitate to make this comparison since one expression draws on colorful vernacular language while the other invokes the name of God, but I think it’s the best way to get at the heart of translating from one language into another; you always lose some of the nuance in the process.) Of course, it’s important to keep all things in moderation or else we’ll encounter all sorts of problems; I by no means think that people are completely powerless in directing the paths of their lives, and some Americans I have spoken with both in Morocco and in Niger have expressed exasperation over the disavowal of personal responsibility that one might perceive in the expression “insha’ Allah.” But rather than diving into a deep philosophical debate, I merely wish to point out some of the assets of this perspective when it’s easy, during this high-stress period in our program, to simply get frustrated by it. I find that, rather than get upset about the uncertainty of the exact date, it’s healthier to embrace the fact that at some currently undetermined time this week, there’s going to be a great party and I’m going to have a day off from school. Insha’ Allah.

Over the weekend I visited the beautiful town of Tetouan, near the Mediterranean coast. It used to be a center for the Spanish colonial administration in northern Morocco and they left behind some lovely architecture to compliment the old medina's maze of alleyways.

Over the weekend I visited the beautiful town of Tetouan, near the Mediterranean coast. It used to be a center for the Spanish colonial administration in northern Morocco and they left behind some lovely architecture to complement the old medina’s maze of alleyways.

Musicians performed in the square beneath our hotel (from which all of these photos come), and when they finished well after midnight they crammed their instruments, flags, and themselves into passing taxis.

Musicians performed in the square beneath our hotel (from which all of these photos come), and when they finished well after midnight they crammed their instruments, flags, and themselves into passing taxis.

The square beneath our hotel in Tetouan during the daytime. We spent the day playing in the nearby Mediterranean, so I took very few photos on this trip; nonetheless it was a beautiful city and a splendid experience.

The square beneath our hotel in Tetouan during the daytime. We spent the day playing in the nearby Mediterranean, so I took very few photos on this trip; nonetheless it was a beautiful city and a splendid experience.

2 thoughts on “On Eids and Exams

  1. John

    The Spanish word “ojala” means pretty much the same thing, kind of a way to say “hopefully.” No surprise where it derives from. Great post.

    Reply

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