Ramadan started this past Monday.
Ramadan, as many will remember, is the holy month of fasting for Muslims worldwide. Toward the end of the month, they celebrate the night during which Allah gave the words of the Q’uran to the Prophet Mohammed.
Fasting starts at the first morning prayer and lasts until the conclusion of the penultimate daily prayer, known as Maghreb. This time of year, Maghreb occurs just after 6pm.
Once Maghreb is completed, families and friends sit down to what is known as the Iftar Feast. For many, this feast is quite simple; for others, it is incredibly elaborate. By all appearances, many, if not most, Saudis tend toward the elaborate side of things. I’ll find out for sure tonight as I have been invited to, and will attend, an Iftar Feast at the home of the father of one of my team members. I am looking forward to the experience.
Westerners who are not Muslim are bound by Saudi law to observe the fasting; however, many find creative ways to get through the day. Since consuming anything, including water, is prohibited, many stash a small bottle of H2O in a desk drawer and furtively swig a little here and a little there.
Many also will squirrel away bits of food in quiet plastic storage bags and pop a bite every once in a while to stave off the hunger pains. Almost everyone eats a larger than normal breakfast. Oddly, I tend to find that I do better by not eating anything at all unless I absolutely have to do so. I’ve been eating breakfast – something which I rarely do, and have rarely done my entire life – this last week. By noon I am far hungrier than if I skip eating anything. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but on the whole that is true. And, of course, many return home for a quick lunch. Fasting is not mandatory within the confines of the Western compounds.
Many businesses run odd hours of operation, too. Many stores are closed from 4pm until 9pm. This is quite common and allows all employees to partake in their own Iftar. Then, they are open until 2am or so. Businesses, including banks, rarely open before 10am.
One friend of mine describes Ramadan as the time when, “…night becomes day and day becomes night.” And, he’s right. The day inverts here during Ramadan.
And, just for your knowledge, the Ramadan greeting most often heard here in Riyadh is, Ramadan Kareem, which means, essentially, a generous Ramadan.
Ramadan is the time of year when Muslims pay Zakat. Zakat is the mandated manner in which Muslims redistribute their abundance by giving to the poor. Just as we have TurboTax to help us out in April, there is special software to help each family determine what their appropriate contribution should be.
An oddity of Ramadan (for non-Muslims) is that it advances 11 days each year. Because the Muslim calendar is lunar in nature, the month of Ramadan wanders through the various seasons. For the next several years, it will occur during the summer months – traditionally the time which Saudis take their long family vacations out of the country to avoid the oppressive heat. I asked a couple of friends what they thought this would do to such vacations as Ramadan advances toward Spring, and they indicated that most Saudis likely will remain in-country due to the family nature of Ramadan.
So, here I am in my third Ramadan. Two more than I planned to experience this closely.
Here’s to being at home during the next Ramadan!