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Ramadan literally translated, means “scorching heat” or “dryness” and is the name of the 9th month of the Hijri or Islamic calendar. In 2015, Ramadan will officially begin on the 18th of June 2015 in Qatar. Why it is an “on or about” date causes much consternation amongst expats who are new to life in The Middle East.
The Hijri calendar is calculated off the sighting of the crescent moon after sunset and determines the first day of the new month, however it has to be an actual physical sighting of the crescent moon not hindered by clouds or a bright setting sun in the west and witnessed by one or more trustworthy men testifying before a committee of Muslim leaders. This does mean that Ramadan could start at a later date than anticipated.
Ramadan is of course a very important month for Muslims around the world who are obliged to abstain from eating food and drinking (called “Sawm” in Arabic), from sunrise to sunset for the full month of Ramadan. Ramadan commemorates the first revelation of The Quran to The Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and is regarded as 1 of the 5 pillars of Islam. Ramadan is more than just fasting (or not eating), it has deep religious significance for Muslims in teaching self-restraint and also requires Muslims to abstain from certain practices during the daytime which invalidate the fast including smoking, sex and swearing.
Ramadan for a non-Muslim expat is a very different experience. To many, it is seen as a torment and trial of endurance for expats who are not used to fasting. In most GCC countries, expats are expected, if not obliged, to also follow the fasting times of Ramadan. Many expats feel this is an unfair expectation as they are not Muslims, but expats must understand that they have relocated to an Islamic country and are bound by all the laws, rules and regulations of their host country. Many other expats understand this and make sure they do not eat or drink in public, which is the only real requirement an expat has upon them. Eating and drinking in your private home space is not forbidden.
Restaurants are closed during the day although some hotels may serve room service during the day to accommodate non-Muslim guests. Work hours for offices and retail stores are also adjusted during Ramadan. Qatar National Bank for example have adjusted their hours during Ramadan as follows: Saturday to Thursday 10:00am to 3:00pm for morning duty and 8:00pm to 12:00am for evening duty. Friday they are closed until 8:00pm to 12:00am (some branches vary so confirm beforehand). Many offices will adjust their work hours from 10:00am to 2:00pm.
Out of respect, it is advised that you do not play music loud in your car or home during the day. If you need to drink water during the day, do so discreetly and not blatantly in open view. Some offices with a large non-Muslim staff contingent will allow coffee and tea during the day and others will allow it in certain areas away from other Muslim staff. If you are pregnant or under medical supervision, consult your doctor to make sure you are eating healthy and drinking enough fluids during Ramadan, but still try to do so discreetly.
Traditionally the process for Muslims breaking-fast is to eat 3 dates before going to prayer. Some expats may also choose to partake in Ramadan and it is important when breaking your fast, that you do so slowly and a good practice is to eat a few dates and maybe a labnah drink so as to not overwhelm the stomach. A light soup with some bread is also recommended. After breaking fast, a grand buffet called Iftar is usually served and many companies will arrange grand buffets for all staff members to attend.
Ramadan is also a time for charity. It is not uncommon in Saudi Arabia to see young Saudi’s handing out free Ramadan food packs just before sunset on the side of the road to help motorists break their fast. Qatar charity (QC) has many campaigns in place to help collect money for various charitable organizations both in Qatar and internationally. QC are raising money this year amongst others to help refugees and displaced peoples in Syria. Locally there are numerous tents that are being set up to offer free Iftar meals to low income earners.
Driving during the day in Ramadan is a pleasure. There are fewer cars as a lot of expats leave Qatar and schools are also closed during this period, but venturing out at night after the sun has set is a very different experience. Doha comes alive at night and restaurants in general will be busy as well as malls causing a slowdown in traffic.
If you have never experienced Ramadan in The Middle East as an expat, definitely get out there and partake in the entire experience. Some love all that it has to offer and others flee their host countries in fear of having to endure yet another Ramadan month. If you are blessed enough to experience Ramadan with a Qatari family, embrace that experience and learn what it means to be a Muslim during the month of Ramadan in Qatar and you, like many others, may see the benefit to giving the body one month of cleansing and rest.
In conclusion, the greeting during the season of Ramadan, is Ramadan “Kareem” and I wish all Muslim and non-Muslims out there a successful Ramadan season for 2015.
By Frederick Goss – Relocation Specialist – Coreo
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