So, a full year has come around.
Things are starting to repeat with regard to my Saudi Arabian sojourn. That includes Ramadan. Fasting from the sunrise prayer (Shorook) to the conclusion of the sunset prayer (Maghrib) is now the way of the land. The fasting includes water and other liquid beverages. Everyone, including Westerners, are required by law to refrain from consumption while in public. Not so much as a stick of gum is supposed to pass these erstwhile lips. Extra muttawa and police roam the public gathering places to ensure compliance with these prohibitions.
As a reminder to those who may not have read the previous Ramadan post, or may have forgotten, Ramadan is the holiest month (the 9th) of the Islamic calendar. This is the month in which Allah gifted the Q’uran to Mohammed and set in motion a chain of events rippling through time to this very day. The first two weeks are pretty much normal, aside from the fasting. People go to work, go shopping, go out at night and break their fast with the Iftar meal. Though it is not common practice in other Islamic countries, work hours are truncated to about six hours per day. As the month progresses, the daytime hours become more of a time of rest, while the nighttime hours become more of a time for social enjoyment and eating. Restaurants run specials on Iftar meals, and family and friends get together similarly to how Americans get together for big Thanksgiving meals. Additionally, during Ramadan, Muslims are supposed to focus on cleansing their person of negative characteristics (e.g., backbiting, jealousy, etc.) and work to improve their devotion to Allah.
Things shift during the second two weeks. Work ceases, and the devout are expected to focus themselves more fully to prayers, in addition to the fasting. That’s not to say that they don’t pray during the first two weeks, but the second two weeks are much more devotionally oriented. As a Western company, we are striving to accomplish as much as we can prior to the 4 October transition point because we know there will be NO Saudis available to approve or disapprove what we do. Quite inconvenient from a business point of view.
The holiest night of the year, Laylat Al-Qadr, falls during the second half of Ramadan. This is the specific night on which Allah provided the Q’uran to Mohammed. Muslims stay up all night in prayer and devotion. Last year, it was quite a shock to arrive at work expecting not to see any of our Muslim employees until around 10am or 11am, and finding them already there when I arrived at 6:30am.
On the first day of the tenth month (Shawwal), depending on when the local council of Imams sight a certain phase of the moon, Eid ul-Fitr begins. Families get up, put on their best and newest clothes, and go to the mosque for a period of communal prayer and a sermon. This is a time of celebration, and the food and drink (non-alcoholic, of course) flows. Eid ul-Fitr is also a time to be mindful of the less fortunate. This is the time when all Muslims must pay an offering for the poor (zakat), according to their means. There exists a formula for computing the amount which must be paid; software even exists to assist those with more complex holdings.
We’re barely into the second week of Ramadan. I try to be respectful of my Muslim friends and their fasting, but like most Westerners I keep a bottle of water hidden in my cubicle and some hard candy to pacify my stomach for the first few days. And, to be perfectly honest, I am hoping this is the last Ramadan I will experience as an alien employee in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.