Ra­madaan in Qatar is a cel­e­bra­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

THE call to prayer from the muezzin echoes through the thick night air as I walk briskly through the streets of my com­pound – not too briskly, though, I don’t want to ar­rive at mosque in a sweaty state.

You see, it may be 8pm, but the tem­per­a­ture is still a swel­ter­ingly 39ºC, with a fair amount of sti­fling hu­mid­ity added to the mix. Qatar, and the rest of the Gulf, is in the throes of sum­mer, with July and Au­gust tra­di­tion­ally the hottest months.

This year seems to be no ex­cep­tion, with day­time tem­per­a­tures reg­u­larly in the high 40s and some­times touch­ing 50ºC.

The sun also rises very early, just af­ter 3am, and sets around 6.30pm. Not quite as long as the mid-year sum­mer days in the UK and US, where the sun sets much later, but long enough – es­pe­cially when you’re fast­ing.

Yep, Ra­madaan started this week through­out the world, and it made me wish I was in Cape Town.

While I don’t miss the wind and the wet that is part and par­cel of the Cape win­ter, I could do with a fast­ing day that starts af­ter 6am and fin­ishes be­fore 6pm. And of course, it would be nice to be with the fam­ily…

Last year, Shi­haam and I packed Aqeel and Saabi­rah off to Cape Town for Ra­madaan, which fell dur­ing their two-month school hol­i­days – it meant we got to sleep in on the week­ends and their grand­par­ents, aunts and un­cles en­joyed the plea­sure of be­ing tapped on the shoul­der ev­ery day around 5am. So win-win.

This year, they’re again on their end-of-school-year va­ca­tion – the school year runs from Septem­ber to June in Qatar – but we’ve de­cided to keep them at home.

We felt it would be nice for us to be to­gether dur­ing Ra­madaan, es­pe­cially with baby Yaqeen hav­ing joined Team Bawa Ex­pats.

It would give the older kids a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence Ra­madaan in a dif­fer­ent coun­try, and a Mus­lim one at that.

And the ex­pe­ri­ence is a dif­fer­ent one. There is gen­er­ally a mass ex­o­dus of ex­pats from Qatar, and the Gulf gen­er­ally, dur­ing the sum­mer and Ra­madaan. Lo­cals tend to stick around, how­ever, and take ad­van­tage of shorter work­ing hours and a more re­laxed ap­proach to life – ex­cept when it comes to be­ing on the road close to iftaar (the break­ing of the fast). Then, of course, ev­ery­one is in a huge rush.

With most com­pa­nies and govern­ment in­sti­tu­tions work­ing a five-hour day, from 8.30am un­til 1.30am, and malls closed from about 1pm un­til 7pm, things tend to come alive af­ter iftaar, and even more so af­ter taraweegh salah (the spe­cial nightly Ra­madaan prayer).

If you’re tired of eat­ing at home, there is no short­age of restau­rants and ho­tels of­fer­ing iftaar spe­cials, whether you’re af­ter a five-star buffet or some good ol’ Nan­dos.

It’s easy to overindulge, though – af­ter the first day of fast­ing on Wed­nes­day, news­pa­pers re­ported that hos­pi­tals ex­pe­ri­enced an in­flux of pa­tients with stom­ach cramps and sim­i­lar ail­ments.

Hence the many sports tour­na­ments, from football to hand­ball, and other ex­er­cise ini­tia­tives that are reg­u­larly sched­uled to take place af­ter sun­set.

Qatar is acutely aware that it has an obe­sity prob­lem, and the need for healthy liv­ing has re­cently come into sharp fo­cus.

Kids, es­pe­cially, bat­tle to find an out­let for their en­ergy in an en­vi­ron­ment which doesn’t al­low them to be out­side for most of the day. Even at night, swim­ming is of­ten the only suit­able ac­tiv­ity, given the heat and hu­mid­ity.

An­other op­tion is in­door play ar­eas, and dur­ing Ra­madaan even th­ese have late trad­ing hours. Rays Reef, for in­stance, a favourite haunt of Aqeel and Saabi­rah’s, is open un­til 1am.

I can’t quite imag­ine let­ting them ride bumper cars and play ten-pin bowl­ing at that hour, though.

Of course, it would give their mom and dad a chance to check out the many Ra­madaan spe­cials on the go. From cars to TVs, deal­er­ships and stores are full of Ra­madaan Ka­reem (Ra­madaan Bless­ings) ad­ver­tise­ments punt­ing spe­cial deals for the month.

There is more to this holy month than food, deals and games. It’s ac­tu­ally a time for re­flec­tion, spir­i­tual en­light­en­ment and a chance to bring out the best in your­self. It’s why I’m go­ing to mosque. Al­though, I must ad­mit, I’m also hop­ing the walk will help di­gest all the iftaar treats I en­joyed…

Fol­low Bawa on Twit­ter @rid­waan­bawa

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