I could write a novel about my Ramadan day to day experiences while living for a long time in the Middle East. But then, summing it up, I decided to write it like a day in the life of a Non Muslim surrounded with Islamic culture.Good thing I have taken lots of photos to remind me and yes, as I look back in it, I still think it was all wonderful experience.
I am grateful , I am really glad.
I was born Catholic and growing up with Christianity doctrines made me feel odd when I was exposed to Muslim Culture and religion.Kuwait is a very conservative country and very traditional Islamic state.Islam is the predominant religion and Arabic is the preffered language. Though lifestyle is modern and yes very competitive, in Expat´s eyes, all of these are just temporary living arrangements.
But what ´s the first thing you think when you hear the word Ramadan? Ramadan is derived from the Arabic word Ramad, meaning “intense heat.” So like heat, Ramadan is a chance to burn away bad habits and carry positive ones throughout the year and beyond.
The month of Ramadan is beautiful, I see it as a solemn time of the year.It is a month of goodness and self-inspection.Inormally view my days as work-home statistics, but then during Ramadan, I felt kinda different.It´s not all about self-righteousness, but more of looking at yourself and deciding to do more good.I´ve got the feeling that during Ramadan, people around me just become conscious of others, they become kinder, and yes,more considerate.probably because this is the highlight month where most locals are serving others, donating help and to sum up--strive for repentance and be good.
I know its Ramadan when I hear these greetings .”Ramadan Kareem“(or May Ramadan be generous to you) is a muslim greeting I have leaned from my colleagues at work and I think this is better than saying ” Sabah el Khair” ( or Good morning).Another form is also “Ramadan Mubarak” (Blessed Ramadan) and at the end of Ramadan, everyone greets with ” Eid Mubarak” ( Blessed Feast).But if you don´t speak any Arabic, you can just simply say “Salam“.
While I was running today, I saw a small leaflet attached to a tree stating well wishes for everyone for a safe Ramadan. I totally forgotten that this is the second year of the pandemic, and as well Ramadan for my Muslim friends.The holy weeks of Ramadan started last April 13 and will end on May 12 and yes, my Muslim friends are fasting!
Fasting for Muslim is not a way to lose weight, I am telling you, fasting and abstinence from sunrise to sunset is NO joke, it´s hard and not everyone understands it and thinks its ridiculous.
Living in Kuwait have exposed me to this culture though I am not a religious person nor an Atheist. But I do believe in one thing, ” faith without deeds is dead“. I grew up in a very conservative Catholic country so my background is quite a mixture of all the religious beliefs I have learned as a kid and growing up in a multicultural environment.Coming to Kuwait had opened my eyes even more to such beliefs and traditions.Above all, I love trying out new things and living as an expat taught me a lot about respecting my host country and its culture just like how I am embracing German culture now.
Anyway, for Muslims ( as I observed from my colleagues), it´s not really all about fasting.I really commend their discipline and perseverance.I see them still trying their best to do their job and not compromising. I never heard them complaining.After a while, I got used to their behaviour and avoid doing things that is not allowed during Ramadan. I am not forced to fast but we respect it and avoid recklessness, loud music, or eating in public. It´s against the law and you could be jailed if you violate it.We should also learn to respect prayer times. Afterall, everything is quite common sense and self-explanatory.
Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection and heightened devotion to prayer and repentance . I´m the only one at work that is not Muslim so everything was really new to me especially their bowing and reciting of Quran. In the office, it´s normal when the Quran is played.I find the whole thing ridiculous at first, but then through time I began to understand it all.They prayed numerous times during the day, starting at the break of dawn, but then during Ramadan, I observed that they do more. Most of my male colleagues take their yearly pilgrimage in Mecca and they really devote themselves to it. They saved money for it, and it´s a great achievement if they´ve done it.
At first I am quite excited when Ramadan starts because it means we need to work less.Many shops are closed during the day so people enjoy shopping until midnight and especially eating out in restaurants.Most restaurants have Iftar buffets and packages for companies, even Hotels offers the same.During this period, ( which practically lasts almost a month), our work schedule is shortened, and yes, we really have lesser output than the normal days. This means we need to do all the deadlines before Ramadan starts, and postpone all important meetings until Ramadan is over. Most inspections are preferably scheduled not on Ramadan, its quite normal. This also applies to all parts of the government since most of them worked only for 4,5 hours, maybe even less.Doing paperwork this time is hard because of timings.
” There is an unseen sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness. We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox is stuffed full of anything, no music,but if brain and belly are burning clean with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire”. – Rumi
Through time, I have learned that true Fasting with intent is a privilege.I mean anyone can fast if they really want, but fasting without a meaning and purpose is just nonsense! It could even endanger your health.Abstinence is quite rigorous and requires a disciplined stamina.The period of 29 or 30 days—the dates change every year, following the lunar calendar of 13 months is pretty exhilarating.When your stomach is empty, your concentration might suffer and you barely can´t think.
The weather during this month is actually very warm, with average of 26 -38 degrees , humid & dust storms is frequent.After breaking their fasting, people usually went out to visit the Mosques, eat in restaurants for Iftar, meet friends , walk in the beach or just cool down inside the mall.
I find it also worth mentioning that the Muslim´s tradition of breaking their fast is quite remarkable.It´s a holy ritual of gratitude and thanksgiving. ” Iftar“, the feast of breaking the fast after sunset marks a glorious victory every single day for every family. I have been invited in numerous Iftar, with close friends and their family and it is really amazing, not only the food but also the ambiance. Sharing a local Arabic home cooked meal is one thing that really bonds people and I give high thumbs for their elaborate food preparations. Arabic foods is really good and again, I kinda missed it all.I enjoy myself a platter of dates, nuts and their tea with cardamon and spices.
As i said, ” Ramadan has the invincible power that brings people together” .Families, friends, colleagues sits together and share a meal, talking about the day´s about.It´s a time to focus on seeking forgiveness and being “kinder“. I was once in the Friday market and it´s about sunset so I really saw how normal people breaks their fast. They tedioulsy prepare their meal, pray together and they eat together. It´s very simple but really humbling to watch.One vendor laid out old newspapers on the ground and prepare the dishes elaborately. First the fruits, Laban or fermented drink juices, then some meat, vegetables and bread.I can see from their faces how grateful they are for this simple feast.Then they gather around , chatting and eat with their fingers.
In the arid, humid climate of Kuwait, it´s a tough challenge in the days of Ramadan. With scorching heat outside, you won´t even have the energy to go outside.The prayer times seemed like interruptions in our daily routines, but then it´s quite the opposite. My colleagues would get up and get their prayer mats and wait for others to gather around in the big hall patiently. They would do this every single day and watching them really amazes me.
Muslims do the Salah (prayer) and goes to the Masjid together if they can. There are plenty of masjid and prayer halls in Kuwait, even inside malls they have it.In the Grand mosque, they have these racks of slippers to wear after they removed their shoes and washed their feet. The “Fajr“(Sehar) at dawn, the early morning prayer is the start of their spiritual journey during Ramadan.My friend who converted into Muslim since her husband is Muslim would wake up an hour early and gather her children to get some “ Suhoor” to have something to eat .It´s a family ritual so they can have something to last as they go through their day.
They wash their feet and faces, and stand by each other. The color of your skin doesn´t matter. Your title, education, job or what car you drive.Once you´re inside the Masjid ( Mosque) , everybody is equal, everyone is bowing their heads and pray the same prayer, everyone looks up to one Allah.For a non -muslim like me,the sound of the prayer time is heard everywhere and it becomes a natural signal for me to take a moment as well and yes, take some time to meditate.
At the end of Ramadan comes the big celebration of Eid el- Fitr. But this important date depends highly on moon sightings. I remember asking my colleagues how do they know when is Eid, and they told me that it depends on the appearance of the new moon so they usually wait until night to confirm it.
It´s bigger than Christmas I think. It´s a special day filled with celebrations among friends and families and people really take time off or go on family outings. Kids are showered with presents and some give or donate money to the poor.It´s very common as well that everyone dressed up extra on this day. This festive moment reminds me of children waiting to open their gifts left by Santa Claus on Christmas Day or Sinterklaas in the Netherlands.
Did you know that it´s common in the Gulf countries during end of Ramadan to pardon prisoners?
Everyone is just happy , and greeting each other ” Eid Mubarak” ! Most families exchange visits with each other and eating is non-stop. The food is really flooding. Women gets special Henna tatoos on their hands and yes, spends the rest of the day shopping with kids. Most of the shops, especially in Kuwait offers big sales .There is something special about Ramadan evenings, maybe because I just love seeing the lovely lights.
Because of the pandemic and corona restrictions, I guess it´s a complete Ramadan experience for my muslim friends, but then in solitude of lockdown, would even be more meaningful.
” Ordinary men hate solitude. But the master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole universe.” –Lao Tzu
Have you ever tried fasting? What do you love to do in solitude?
Ramadan Kareem and stay safe.
Until then, tschüss!