Friday, 19 July 2013

Ramadan again

Lunch will be served, when?
Almost two weeks ago now the holy month of Ramadan started. This is a time of the year when Muslims fast from dawn to dark. Being summer here the long hours and heat are hard for people as the fast extends from around 0430 to roughly 7pm.  I think next year will be a little better as the Islamic calendar uses lunar months meaning that the month called Ramadan moves forward by around ten days each year.

During the fasting period it is illegal to eat or drink in public. Throughout Ramadan the sale of Alcohol is banned across the country. As a result many of the licensed bars, clubs and restaurants shut down, giving their expatriate staff an opportunity to go home. licensed restaurants even stop serving any dishes cooked in alcohol.

It's a little bit strange seeing all the coffee shops, restaurants and eateries closed through the peak lunch period. Makes the food courts seem almost worth going into - nobody's there so it's nice and quiet! And Mc Donalds are getting the amount of custom their "alleged" food deserves.

In many ways it is the Muslim equivalent of Christmas - at least in terms of public acknowledgement and celebrations that go on around Ramadan. Radio stations change their programming, and air introspective programs talking about religion, society and core values. Each morning 90.4FM - "The Nation Station" starts with a reading from the Koran in Arabic, then English and a discussion on the meaning of the passage. This is repeated with verses coming up to prayer times throughout the day.

Supermarket chains advertise Ramadan specials, there are lucky shopper giveaways and everybody competes to offer "specials" through the month. Ramadan deals on cars etc, buy this get that free, two for one chickens in the supermarket..................

Because of the fasting office hours are reduced for the private and public sector and nobody really expects a lot to be done through Ramadan. Although that's not the case for me and the project at work. the morning drive to work is fabulous, but afternoons coming home are another story entirely.......

Ramadan is meant to be a time of introspection and also one of family and strengthening family ties. So in the lead up to dusk Omani's head off from wherever they are to join a family Ifthar (breaking of the fast meal) this may be at a home, or it could be at any number of restaurants that put on Ifthar banquets. The Grand Mosque in Muscat holds free Ifthar banquets after the dusk prayers. These are for the workers and the less fortunate.

Many restaurants have set up extra areas for Ifthar diners. One near here has a set up which is close to the largest marquee I have ever seen, it fills two thirds of their large parking area. (Out 8*5 metre tent would hardly bother a corner) Restaurants offer special Ifthar meals - banquets or fixed menu meals at reduced prices.
The temporary ifthar hall

Once started the celebratory eating continues to the wee small hours and after a small sleep its time to get up for breakfast and prepare for the long day ahead. Because of this people are up and about at all hours. Shops close in the afternoon and open again by about 8, staying open until 1am or later. There are special activities in the evenings - the Muscat Motorsports club is running go-kart sessions at their track until 1. Movie sessions slip back, theaters open at 8 and sessions start as late as midnight.

Charity bins and giving places have sprung up in the malls as Ramadan is when Muslims are meant to honor their annual giving of excess wealth to those less fortunate. Of course the counter to this is you now see beggars on the street - something which the local Imams preach against. I have read articles decrying begging as against Islam. And to be honest throughout the rest of the year there are few beggars to be seen anywhere in Oman. If a Muslim is needy they should go to the mosque and seek aid there.

Throughout this month one of the most common questions I get asked is "Do you fast?" zyou should join us it is a wonderful experience, good for the body cleansing and the soul. My answer is always that I fast at work and in public and I never say that I would not fast. Maybe there will be a day or two in there somewhere.....


Ramadan Kareem

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