Well, it’s here! My first Ramadan in the Gulf. In case you’re not sure what it is, Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting from sunrise to sunset (more information below).
I’m actually pretty excited, but I really don’t know what to expect. I’ve heard stories on the extremes from different people. As a Westerner here in the Gulf, Ramadan can be very imposing on your normal life. You cannot eat, drink, or smoke in public during daylight hours. Also, things will tend to move a lot slower, since working hours are cut back.
Depending on your attitude, though, it can be quite an experience. Personally, I’m excited to be living here, because I think Ramadan will be the a great experience of Islamic culture that I have not seen before.
Here is some information from a recent US Embassy message that will give you some insight about life here during the next month:
• Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan. As such, it is illegal in Qatar to eat, drink (even water), or smoke in public during fasting hours, i.e., approximately 5:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. Approximate times for sunrise and sunset will be announced in local newspapers. If Muslims are present in the work place, they expect non-Muslims to respect their fasting and not eat, drink, or smoke in front of them, even in motor vehicles, or to prepare food that they can smell or see. As it is illegal to serve food or drink during fasting hours, restaurants will be closed during daylight hours, with the exception of a few hotel restaurants that serve non-Muslims only. Restaurants will begin serving food at sundown, but expect them to be crowded, especially during Iftar, the first meal immediately after sunset. If you are in a hotel, and they do not serve a meal at a time you require, you will find that room service is normally available or the dining room will have an isolated area where non-Muslims are served.
• While modest dress and respectful behavior between the sexes (even between married couples) are normal social customs in Qatar, this is particularly so during Ramadan.
• Shops and markets are open in the morning, often closed in the afternoon, but open again for a few hours after sunset. Shops and stores will have extended hours into the late evening and early morning to accommodate Ramadan hours of operation.
• If possible, please avoid driving in the hour immediately before sunset. One should be extra alert at this time, as many Muslims will be rushing to family member’s or friend’s home or a restaurant to break their fast. Many accidents occur at this time, some very serious.