Ramadaan in Qatar is a celebration
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…
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