By SHABINA S. KHATRI
GLOBAL VOICES ONLINE
Daytime in Doha, Qatar has become much quieter this week, as residents in this Muslim country acclimate to Ramadan, which began last Saturday.
As it is the holiest month for Muslims, Ramadan should be a time for reflection, writes Qatari K Saleh:
You’re supposed to be kind, gentle, pure, and appreciate the fact that you are lucky in life to have food and to think more about those who have less in life in order to be giving.
But in reality, Ramadan takes on a different significance for most in Doha, as it is commonly associated with (government-mandated) shorter workdays, sumptuous feasts and socializing late into the night.
Mohana of A Day in Doha explains a common criticism.
Many speak critically of the lavishness of the modern day meals post the breaking of fast iftar, or footor, as it’s know in the Gulf. After the dates and laban to ease the empty palate, there is a spread of food that seems far from the poverty and poor that Ramadan calls people to reflect upon.
She also shares the non-Muslim perspective. For some, she writes, Ramadan is about a lack.
All the restaurants, eateries, and entertainment outlets such as movies and bowling alleys are closed in solidarity with the community. No alcohol is served in the country, even at the hotels which normally function as evening waterholes.
Even eating or drinking in public is prohibited, with offenders facing a hefty fine and possible jail time.
That rule has been especially hard to follow this month, as Doha experiences record-breaking heat and humidity.
On the forum Qatar Living, commentators debated the merit of the restrictions.
It is a very weak person who can’t resist the temptation to eat just because they see someone else doing it. Muslims in the UK have to fast for much longer hours than here (during the summer) and see people eating all around them… to force us not to eat against our will is inhumane.
Commentator Mandilular adds:
I do love Ramadan but I prefer to be in the US for the holy month. There’s just something incongruous about a spiritual time of prayer and family and fasting that threatens non-observers with three months in prison.
I’m from the states I would rather [be] here than there for Ramadan. Yes people eating in front of you shouldn’t stop your fast. But it will make your fast a lot easier if people weren’t chowing down on some food right in front of you. And secondly for people who are not fasting it’s not that big of deal to not be able to eat in public. No one is telling you not to eating during the day they are just saying don’t eat in public.
More on the discussion can be found at Qatar Living.
Though adjusting to the month can be hard at times, many non-Muslims have found the experience to be instructive.
Meredith at Hack the Bone says she will use Ramadan as a month to detox and catch up on blogging. She writes:
My Muslim colleagues told me to enjoy Ramadan as a “vacation” but I’m trying to fast while in the office, out of respect for those around me. It’s tough (it’s been one day, I suck) but weirdly satisfying. I didn’t know what to expect for my first Ramadan, but the city feels peaceful.
Mohana at A Day in Doha shares how her perspective on the month evolved, from seeing it as an inconvenience to taking it as an opportunity.
She says she will take advantage of the shorter workday by spending her extra free time
catching up with friends who are otherwise too busy in the course of the year to stop and chat, or writing, exercising, or any number of things I put off because I’m too busy.
Some expats are also spending Ramadan trying to learn more about the Muslim faith.
Intlexpatr, who has written a Ramadan Guide at Here There and Everywhere, says:
Most Westerners don’t understand Ramadan…the season is as holy to them as our Lent and Easter are to us. Ramadan was the month when The Qur’an was transmitted to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel.
During church services in Doha, she adds:
Our priest asked the congregation if any of us had literature explaining why the Muslim God was not the same as the Christian God. We all looked at him in shock. Not one person raised his or her hands. Then he smiled, a great big broad grin and said “Good! There is only one God, and our Moslem brothers and sisters worship the same one-God we do.”