Ramadan in Doha! I love it this time of the year. As a Non-Muslim, my experience with the holy month of Ramadan is something that I cherish. Everything about this month seems right. Less working hours, less stress, the holiness in the atmosphere, people being more tolerant with each other! This could never get better. The weather is brutal in the day with temperatures soaring up to 46 degree celsius, but this whole feel of ‘Ramadan’ kind of masks it. The city is most calm towards dusk, during iftar. The sunset with orange sky and zero traffic on the streets looks very surreal like a scene from a post apocalyptic movie.
As a person who relies on restaurants and eateries for my food, the only disadvantage is that everything is closed for breakfast and lunch. I called up my favourite restaurant to find out if they do takeaways and they replied in the negative. I wouldn’t mind grabbing a quick bite of a sandwich from the grocery, but it is forbidden to eat or drink (even water) in public. And I am kind of okay with that. I now stock food the previous night, thanks to the refrigerator! You got to respect certain rules and cultures. I remember my school days back in Abu Dhabi where all the Muslim students had to go to the prayer room during recess so that they could pray. Either that or it prevented them from temptation to eat.
Offices are open by 7am. Government offices work up to 2pm and call it a day. Most private companies do the same. Small businesses operate till 1pm and reopen after iftar at around 7:30pm and run late till 11pm. Weirdest timings ever! The midday break to me is like a kid in cotton candy land. I read, I sleep, wake up, play some music, find time to do some blog entries and get ready for work. There are very few entertainment related activities going on here. No new movie releases in the theatre. The next big releases are slated only for Eid. So movie buffs have to wait. The radio stops playing your hits and programmes are about Islamic culture and speeches. Holy verses from the Quran can be heard in the skies broadcasted by megaphones from the mosque’s minarets.
A cannon in the State Mosque here goes off every day at sunset to let people know that they can break their fast. This is a tradition that goes in many Muslim countries. Here in Doha, people gather to see this awesome sight some carrying kids on their shoulders. I personally think this a cool way to announce that one can break their fast. Bring on the food! It’s time to eat. I have attended some iftar parties and gorged on all the delicious food. Can’t wait for the feast this Eid that our company will host! Today I saw a man light up a cigarette to break his fast. No water, no dates. He chose to smoke! You have crazies like him too. If you visit any eatery just before sunset, you will find people with folded arms wearing taqiyas (skullcap), staring at the fruits and glasses of water on their tables waiting for the prayer call to come from mosques which means that one can break his or her fast.
Since it is a spiritual time, a lot of Muslims spend time at mosques in the evenings. Their idea of being ‘closer to God’ amazes me the most. I really do hope they don’t feel this for just a month. A lot of charity act takes place. There are huge white tents erected near mosques where food is given to anyone who visits, be it Muslim or Non-Muslim. Some tents are huge and can accommodate up to thousands. I usually leave for work during this time and see huge crowds gathered outside such tents patiently waiting for their pack of food. Mostly hard working labourers are present and they carry bags back to their accommodation.
Also, every year the Hyatt Plaza runs something known as the ‘fast-a-thon’ which gives non-Muslims the experience to fast and a free dinner for participants. People donate more to charity at this time of the month.
Qatar is also dry for 30 days. This is bad news for all the expats who are into alcohol. No more “Hey, let’s catch up for some beer”. All hotels are prohibited from serving alcohol. Only after the first day of Eid, which falls right after the end of Ramadan, bars and restaurants will start serving booze. But you can find lavish buffets everywhere around the city. If that helps you compensate! Traffic is heaviest after 8pm in the city. People come out of their houses, attend special programmes, meet up at family’s or friend’s places for dinner parties and shopping of course. Truly this is a social month.
Everybody is looking forward to the Eid Holidays. Government offices are closed for 10 days and the Private Sector gets around 3 days. Time to pack bags and go for a mini vacation. I will end up visiting my family and feast on homemade food. Can’t wait! Oh Ramadan, please don’t get over because when life returns to normal, everything is so boring.