Under the Andalusian Sun

Under the oppressive Andalusian sun, I crave everything. Not just a cold glass of hydrating water but a sugary Coca-Cola to make me feel like I’m in a commercial. I crave a mango smoothie and an ice cream cone all at once. I even crave less refreshing foods like hotdogs and paella because the heat has sucked the energy and the life out of me.

I imagine it’s the same for Muhammed Bakkali, a shop owner in Granada who sells Arabic crafts in a street close to Plaza Nueva. But Bakkali resists the temptation now that Ramadan has begun.

“It’s a question of willpower,” Bakkali tells me. “You can eat at home, go out and no one will know if you have eaten. But its about willpower, like a sacrifice you make to show you have faith in God.”

Willpower, something I find myself lacking quite often, especially in the mornings and right before work starts. Sometimes on my way out to work, my mother will ask me if I’m missing or forgetting something before I head out.

“Me faltan las ganas,” I’ll reply. I lack the desire.

In total, there are only about 1.9 million Muslims in Spain, about 4 percent of the Spanish population. But nowhere is the Arab influence on Spain more present than in Granada. Throughout Andalusia there are mosques that were converted into cathedrals and old Muslim neighborhoods. But in Granada, the Arab and Muslim influence is alive and clearly visible. The adhan, the call to prayer, can still be heard in Albaicin and other neighborhoods of the city.

Muhammed Bakkali’s shop, where he sells Arabic craftwork such as leather bags, looking out into the street in Granada, Spain.

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.

“The atmosphere changes,” Bakkali said. “The Muslim community changes. Now we start to gather more in the mosques. We eat and break our fasts together in a group.“

I imagine fasting for Ramadan might be a bit harder for Muslims in parts of the world with long, hot days. In Granada today, it’s nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun does not go down until 9:30 p.m. But Bakkali tells me it’s the same struggle no matter where you are.

“Well the heat, we put up with it. And it’s not like we die without eating for half the day,” Bakkali said. “It’s all the same, in whichever country and whichever place. I do this because I have faith in God and if He asks me to I’ll do it.”

However, I suspect it may still be harder for Muslims living far from a supportive Muslim community. In a city like Leon, which lacks the kind of racial diversity of cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Granada, I imagine Ramadam can be a lonely endeavor.

I asked my friend and classmate Rayanna what it’s like to fast in Leon.

“It’s definitely easier to fast when everyone is also fasting but it’s not one of the first things I think or worry about,” Rayanna tells me. “I’m used to living my life, following my religion, and doing things that are different than most people surrounding me.”

The heat, the long days, and the surrounding people seem to be of little importance to those observing Ramadan. Ramadan is what matters, Rayanna tells me, because it is a month of worship and by observing it, people attempt to become better people and encourage others to do the same.

“It’s a month where everyone bonds and people are happier and calmer and food and water are more appreciated,” Rayanna says. “It’s a month of happiness and tranquility.”

I wonder what observing Ramadan could do for my own happiness and tranquility. As someone who is agnostic, I could never sincerely do it for religious reasons. But perhaps Ramadan could become a necessary annual exercise of my willpower.

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