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Happy Ramadan-Kareem

Happy Ramadan-Kareem is the greeting that resounds through the hallways and malls that surround me this week in Doha, Qatar. – it’s a mixed feeling.

Ramadan is a month long lunar event (one that rotates month by month through the year) it marks the anniversary of several important Islamic events – the revealing of the koran to Muhammad by Gabriel, The battle of Badr (between Mecca & Medina). The Five Pillars of Islam are celebrated; the most common one is fasting.

Fasting occurs from sunup to sundown, this year that’s from around 6am till 5.30pm. The purpose of fasting is to teach ‘self discipline’ & to ward off the ‘Weapons of Satan’ that are strengthened by food and drink.

According to Muhammad, there are 5 things that will undo all the good that comes from fasting:
1. Telling lies
2. Denouncing someone behind his or her back
3. Slander
4. A False Oath
5. Greed or Covetousness

That’s the principle:

Here is the practice: all work effectively ceases for a month with most workers going home mid morning to lie on their sofas watching TV, having become too exhausted from the previous nights partying & gorging on Iftah: the sights ive seen are truly shocking; Tables literally groaning under the weight of sickly high calorie food, grown men literally elbowing people out the way to get to food. Exotic Belly dancers & Whirling Dervishes practice their art to entertain and please the senses. Sugared dates, Arabic sweets & Shisha Pipes are consumed late into the night.

All restaurants, food outlets & supermarkets close during daylight hours apparently to show restraint and so the fasting citizens of Doha aren’t tempted by their wares. Smoking and drinking of any liquids in public is banned (a convenient solution was found at work by wall papering over the windows it was deemed socially acceptable for people to drink water and coffee if they were not fasting) people are still having to skulk around the back of the SNG Hut to have a fag.

I have no problems with the thought of excess – I enjoy it on a regular basis; most of my late teenage years & early twenties were spent either spent coming up, in an alcoholic haze or in a crushing come down of the ‘mid week blues’. I enjoyed every moment of it!!! However I was holding down a job and running my own business at the time. If I slacked off work early or failed to complete a job on time it was my neck on the block.

I find trying to conceal this excess under the veil of self control and modesty by day (and subsequent excuses of feeling light headed from fasting, feeling tired etc.!!!!) and wanton excess by night to be a little galling, because its my western colleagues & I who have to pick up the slack during the inevitable mind morning round of excuses. Burocraticaly speaking trying to get anything done during Ramadan isn’t going to happen with many people turning up simply to clock-in & place hold for the 3-4 hrs they turn up at work.

Don’t get me wrong there are a number of people who do fast and not consume to excess, but there generally not from the gulf region and are certainly not wahibist; of the most devout followers regarding the fast, people from Palestine, Jordan & Egypt to be simultaneously the most dedicated to the principles of their fast (i.e. the principle of self discipline) and the most tolerant of others not observing the fast – they like me find a lot of public behavior in this region hypocritical in this time of Ramadan – simply the observation of a fast in its mechanical terms (i.e. not eating during daylight hours, by sleeping during the day and partying all night) does not alleviate you of your other obligations and doesn’t live up to the oaths and the religious fervor sworn.

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