Saturday, 26 July 2014

The end of my second Ramadan!

I can't quite believe this is my second Ramadan in Qatar!  Where did the time go?  Ramadan is now nearly at an end and Eid is just around the corner.  I entered Ramadan this year with a clearer idea about what it really means and why it is such a special time for those of the Muslim faith.  As you know, it is a time of fasting between sunrise and sunset - not just food and water but also smoking and resisting all other desires, if you know what I mean.

In Qatar, everything is closed pretty much all day, until around 5pm when things start to open up and food will not be served until after prayers at sunset.  The roads are deserted and tumble weed blows down the street.  Then in the evening, its chaos.  Everyone is out, the roads are jammed, the malls are humming and the restaurants packed with families coming out for Iftar.  Families with the smallest children stay out until the early hours enjoying the atmosphere.

During Ramadan, I had to take my recycling to the park along the Corniche as usual, but the temperatures had soared and it was too hot both in the morning and the evening, so I decided that as I was getting up at 3am to have my breakfast anyway, as is the ritual, I would take it then!!  As I ventured out, I saw hundreds of people on the streets, mainly men walking to the Mosque for dawn prayers.

The atmosphere was amazing and the temperature certainly bearable enough for my 5 km walk to the park.  As I got close to the park, I could see that whole families were out having their Suhoor (pre-dawn meal) picnic - little children, as young as 3 years old, were playing and enjoying the Ramadan routine.  It was a wonderful experience to see it and to feel the touch of coolness in the air at that time of day.  As I walked back, the sun began to rise as the fishermen waited for their first catch, and I could already feel the heat building!!

Ramadan is a time of increased modesty in behaviour and attire and should be a time when we are at peace with each other.  It is a time for reflection and consideration of others, particularly those who are less fortunate.  The fasting helps to remind us how lucky we are to be able to eat whenever we want and provides us with the opportunity to practice self discipline and selflessness and focus more on faith and spiritual fulfilment……

…..Then I went to Carrefour, the hypermarket in the City Centre Mall.  One would expect the supermarkets to be quiet as people are surely eating less, buying less and indulging less……. errrr not exactly.  I was mystified to see the fruit and vegetable areas piled higher than ever, shelves bulging with dates, nuts, turkish delight, and a dedicated Ramadan display of sweet arabic treats such as baklava etc.

It really reminded me of December in the UK, when the shops all out-do each other in the latest line of overindulgence and we all talk about how we've lost the real meaning of Christmas!  Its funny  - whether we're Christians or Muslims, whether we're in London or Doha, we can't help being human with all our inconsistencies, frailties and contradictions.

But, as with Christmas, there is a another way to look at it.  What, at first glance, may appear to be pure gluttony, could, as one of my muslim friends explained, be families buying extra food to cater for relations and friends coming over for Iftar.  Iftar is the meal to break the fast at sunset.  It is a very sociable time, a time for thinking about loved ones, families, friends and neighbours.


A time to share, cook for them, be generous, kind and loving with them.  And last year I did indeed witness this personally, being invited to Iftar by two of my colleagues to their family homes.

And these are indeed impressive spreads, and several hours are spent in preparation.  Plenty of traditional regional dishes and home cooked specialities handed down through the generations.  Arab people are truly the warmest, most generous and hospitable of any culture I've ever experienced.

Eid al-Fitr, which means the 'Feast of Breaking the Fast', marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan and the start of the month of Shawwal (the tenth month of the Islamic calendar), with the first sighting of the new crescent moon.  This year it is estimated to be 28th July and is officially announced by Saudi Arabia.  In religious terms, it is one day but the holidays usually last 2 or 3 days and in Qatar even longer.  This year, public bodies are giving staff 5 days holiday.

There are two such festivals in the Muslim calendar.  The other is Eid al-Adha, falling around October time this year.  This is the 'Feast of the Sacrifice' and honours Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his first born son to God, before God intervened to provide him with a lamb to sacrifice instead.  It is another 4 or 5 days public holiday in the Islamic world.

And what does Eid al-Fitr have in store this year?  Well, usually there are plenty of activities and celebrations at various locations, including of course at my beloved Souq Waqif.  However, with such tragic events taking place in Gaza at this time, a decision has been taken to cancel all musical events in the Souq as a mark of respect for those killed, injured and caught up in the violence.  Doha News  As I said to a friend on Facebook - I'll miss the music but I fully appreciate and support the gesture.

But many Qataris and expats will use the time to get away for a while.  Many people take vacation during these times and work slows down, replaced by a time for enjoyment, leisure, family, and celebration.  Not a bad idea really!!

I wonder if I'll be here for Ramadan number three!....... I very much hope so!!!!



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