Observing Ramadan | What I Learned from Living in a Muslim Country?

Coming from a country where most of the people are Catholic, I have a lot of questions regarding Islam’s culture and tradition when I first arrived here in Qatar, and some of those were regarding the celebration of this holy month that they call Ramadan. Over the years of staying here, I came to learn and understand their ways in observing this event. That is why on this post, I will try to answer some questions that you may have which may be similar from those that I have in mind before; and these are all based on my personal observations and experiences for the past 4 years of living here in Qatar. 

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is a holy month on the Islamic Calendar when Muslims all around world fast, pray and sacrifice in order grow closer to their God, Allah. It can lasts for 29 to 30 days and the dates vary every year depending on the moon sighting.

For the year 2017, the Muslim community welcomed Ramadan on the 26th of May and it is expected to end either on the 24th or 25th of June.

What are the religious practices of Muslims during Ramadan?

Fasting – I guess this is what we all know about Ramadan. From dawn to sunset, Muslims must abstain from consuming food and drinks. Children, breastfeeding / pregnant women or person with illnesses are usually exempted from doing this practice.

Apart from food and drink fasting, they should also refrain from smoking, lying, fighting, love making or anything that can be considered as sinful.

Charity worksThis is very important for Muslims, but they are expected to do more of this during the holy month. Some may give donations to charitable institutions while others host ramadan/iftar camps where meals are provided to less fortunate people.  

PrayersMuslims are encouraged to pray more and read their sacred book Quran during the whole month of Ramadan.

What are expected from Non-Muslims during Ramadan?

Non Muslims like me here in Qatar are expected to respect these religious practices particularly fasting. It is not really prohibited to eat or drink, as long as you will not do it in public places or in the presence of those who fast. Actually I have some Muslim friends here who tells me that it is alright for them to see me eating or drinking even during the fasting hours, since they understand that we are not really required to do it. I just choose not to, out of courtesy.

Aside from that, men and women are also encouraged to dress modestly during this period. This means avoid wearing clothes that are too tight, revealing or those that exposes your shoulders and knees. Public display of affection among those in a relationship is also prohibited.

Since Ramadan is also the time for reflection and meditation; loud music, singing, dancing and laughing out loud in public during the fasting hours are also prohibited.

Does Companies and Establishments operate differently in Qatar during Ramadan?

Yes. Most Companies have shortened working hours (usually 6 hours) during the whole month of Ramadan. In the place where I work, our office timing is from 9am to 2pm only.

Government offices and most establishments like banks, malls, shops, clinics, museums and others have different operating hours. If you want to know their timings for 2017, you can check this website.

As for the restaurants and cafes, they are usually close during the morning and commence operation after the fasting hours. Though there are still some particularly those located inside the hotels that are open all through out the day.

Bars, clubs and Qatar Distribution Center (the place where we buy liquors and pork) are also close for the whole month and will be open after Ramadan.

What is the difference between Iftar and Suhoor?

I used to interchange these two terms before, all I know is that they both pertain to eating (haha).

Iftar is the meal eaten by Muslims during sunset after fasting. Traditionally, they consume dates, water or milk to break the fasting period. Suhoor, on the other hand, is the meal consumed just before they fast.

Here in Qatar, iftar and suhoor are done in various ways. There are some Companies and Charitable Institutions that set up iftar camps where they provide free meals for everyone. I haven’t tried it though, because these are usually attended by men. Muslim families also prepare meals at the comfort of their homes which are usually shared by family members and friends.

Most restaurants also have their iftar and suhoor offers, which can either be a set meal that you can buy at a reasonable price or buffets which can be likened to a feast, where different cuisines are served.

Usually, these establishments offer iftar first from sunset until 9:00 pm, then followed by suhoor from 9:00 pm onwards.

What is Eid Al Fitr?

Eid Al Fitr is a religious holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.Usually, there are various events and programs lined up everywhere. Here in Qatar, we are given 3 days off to celebrate this occasion and it may be longer particularly for those working in the government.  Actually, this is one of the holidays (and Eid Al Adha) that I always look forward to because it is the best time to go on vacation.

If you want to share your Ramadan observations and experiences or those things that you love to do during this time, let me know by commenting down below.

P.S.: One of the things I love to do during Ramadan is to shop. Yes, you heard it right. Here in Qatar, most of the stores and shops are on sale during this month. And what I mean by sale is 50% to 70% off on good quality items. It is also the best time to buy vehicles, gadgets, computers, cellphones, shoes, clothes, chocolates and a whole lot of stuff.

(Credits to Wikipedia for some information on this post.)

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