What is Ramadan – A dummies guide for non-Muslims

Ramadan is the Islamic Holy Month during which Muslims commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. During this period, from sunrise to sunset Muslims practice fasting. They abstain from eating and drinking (yes even water) from dawn to dusk. And many give up things like smoking and sex 24/7 for the entire holy month. It’s a time for pure thoughts. So no saying or even thinking bad things about others. A time for extra prayer. And a great deal of charity work/donations.

Ironically although Ramadan is a month for fasting, there is a great amount of eating getting done in the evenings when it’s ok to do so again.

When is Ramadan

Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar. Because the lunar calendar shifts around 10 or 11 days to the left of the Gregorian calendar (the calendar you are probably familiar with) each year, thus Ramadan arrives around 10 or 11 days earlier each year. In 2018 it is expected that Ramadan will start on May 15th. But this is only confirmed upon the sighting of the new (crescent) moon.

How long does Ramadan last

29 to 30 days. Ramadan ends on the sighting of the next crescent (new) moon. And then there is a massive celebration and public holiday called Eid al-Fitr.

Is Ramadan a Good Time to Visit Qatar

There is never a bad time to visit Qatar. The very hot season, the cold season and what I call the Mediterranean season all have their benefits. And Ramadan also has many great benefits. Especially if you like eating. One major benefit of staying in Qatar over Ramadan is the amazing hotel rates. You can enjoy massive discounts for accommodation during the Holy Month.

It is especially worth being around for Eid al-Fitr. This festive end to the month of Ramadan lasts 3 days (much longer if you work for the Government). And is kind of like Christmas holidays in the west. A time for family, vacations and a lot of fun. Including even more eating.

What to expect during Ramadan in Qatar.

Qatar is one of the countries that embrace the Holy Month in full. During daylight hours all food and drink outlets are closed for business. You can still go shopping and buy food and drink, you just can’t consume it until daylight ends (in public).

During Ramadan the streets appear much quieter during the day. Working hours are reduced so that people can get home and rest while fasting. Being hungry and thirsty can be quite challenging, so the best place to be is at home where you can conserve water by not talking and stay cool in the comfort of your home air-conditioning.

Another reason the streets seem empty is because everyone is in the supermarkets shopping for ingredients to use in the evening’s festivities (Iftar). During Ramadan every day resembles Christmas Eve in Tesco back home in UK to me. With frantic shopping taking place to ensure your loved ones will enjoy the very finest fare to break fast with at sunset. And once the shopping is done there is all the cooking and food preparation to be done.

Malls and shopping centres look and feel different when all their food outlets are closed during the day. They are quiet. Not only because there is no one chatting over coffee in Starbucks, but because music is not played during Ramadan either. Some public places instead of playing music, play readings from the Holy Quran.

Most hotels cater for those not fasting by setting aside somewhere for daytime meals to be eaten out of sight of those fasting. Of course, you can eat and drink all you like in your room, but nowhere in public.

Your dress code should be much more conservative during Ramadan. Ladies should try and avoid showing too much skin. Qatar has become quite tolerant of Western dress, but during Ramadan it would be most disrespectful to have too much on show. Even men need to be more covered up. Avoid shorts as much as possible outside the hotel. Three quarter lengths are not too bad, but just try and avoid dressing in a manner that will cause offence. And for goodness sake try and avoid using expletives when you are conversing in public. You should avoid that always here in Qatar anyway. But during Ramadan be extra careful with your language.

All bars and restaurants throughout Qatar stop serving alcohol during the Holy Month.

Driving in Qatar During Ramadan

Driving gets a little quicker and impatient during the day. Thirsty and hungry drivers on their way home to rest tend to be in a little bit of a hurry. Then in the evening just before sun down, everyone is rushing to get to their break fast location. It’s tradition to do a lot of visiting during Ramadan, so you spend the whole month breaking fast with different relatives and friends. And you will be in a hurry to get to where you are going to break your fast the moment you are allowed to. Then it goes quiet. Everyone is inside eating. The roads are deserted. Until everyone has eaten. And then everyone needs to get somewhere else. Another relative to visit, or business that you were too tired to undertake during fasting now needs to be attended to. And of course… more shopping.

Iftar

Everyone is listening for the call to prayer at sunset because it’s the signal to break your fast. Anyone not in hearing distance of a mosque, will almost certainly be tuned into the radio listening out for the moment you can start eating and drinking. And the name for this moment is ‘Iftar’.

Cannon located at Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab Mosque (state mosque), during Ramadan. Fired to signal it’s safe to eat and drink

Iftar is best shared with friends and family. Some people have their Iftar at home. Some like to take picnics to parks or the Corniche. You can see them setting up their spreads before sunset and then sitting patiently waiting for the signal to begin.

Nearly all restaurants have a special Iftar menu, and a great many have Iftar buffets. If you are staying in a hotel, then an Iftar buffet is almost certainly going to be on offer. Iftar buffets range in price from around QR 50 (GBP 9.85 USD 13.75 EUR 11.25) to around QR 350 (GBP 68.90 USD 96.20 EUR 78.60). As with everything you get what you pay for. The more you pay, the better the fare on offer. But how much can you actually eat?

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