By Habiba Radcliffe
As I approach the end of my first Ramadan in Qatar, the holy month has been full of surprises and delights.
Born and raised in London, this is my first Ramadan away from the UK, where life continues as normal around you. Work colleagues continue to drink fragrant coffee next to you, and invitations to parties or meals before sunset continue as normal, which must be politely declined.
So it’s so wonderful to be in a Muslim country where the whole country is gripped by the fever of Ramadan, and where it seems quite normal for your body-clock to be turned upside down by the daily fast.
It seems as though everyone around me is sharing the experience of Ramadan and the cadence of Doha life is altered to accommodate the fasting.
In London I was used to regularly being asked questions such as, “You mean you can’t even have a sip of water?!”
In contrast, non-Muslims in Qatar are very aware Ramadan, its importance to Muslims, and what it entails. Not having to explain Ramadan is a blessing in itself.
No escaping it
Unlike London, in Doha there’s no escaping the fact that the Holy Month is here. No matter where you happen to be.
I love the subtle but festive decorations in shopping malls, and the signs in shops and restaurants declaring “Ramadan Kareem!” and “Ramadan Mubarak!” acknowledging what a special time of year this is. One of my favourite things is all the Ramadan special offers in the food stores.
I can honestly say that I have never seen as many abundant and mouth-watering displays of nuts and dates as I have seen over the last few weeks!
These displays seem to reflect the most prominent thing about fasting in Qatar, and one which I wasn’t expecting at all: the absolute, all-consuming and inescapable obsession with food!
It seems impossible to read a newspaper or step out without being bombarded by tempting Ramadan offers from restaurants.
In the UK there’s no fashion for eating out for Iftar or Suhour. Instead meals are family events with modest home-cooked fair. It would seem that the only thing that gets people through the day in Doha is the promise of gorging themselves come sunset!
All this eating however does form part of the nicest thing of all about Ramadan in Qatar, which is that it’s a time for socialising. During Ramadan, the burning of the midnight oil goes on until even later than usual. Everybody is in high spirits, there’s a celebratory feel in the air, and each day is filled with social gatherings to share the evening meals.
It’s a great time to catch up, relax and bond with friends and make new ones, irrespective of whether they’re fasting or not.
Thankfully alongside all the eating, there are lots of charitable works going on during Ramadan.
From the companies and mosques that have set up free food tents for the impoverished; to the national blood banks campaign to encourage the donation of organs and blood; and local charity ROTA’s distribution of grocery parcels delivered to families in need; knowing that there is so much good work taking place fills me with warmth for this country, which has started to feel like home after only four months here.
Before Ramadan, I heard warnings from some expats about how inconvenient it is that everything slows down during Ramadan and how irritable hungry people can get in the Middle Eastern sun.
I can honestly say that the slower pace feels sensible and entirely in keeping with the rhythm of Ramadan, provoking an extra appreciation of the city and its people when it comes to life after sundown.
But more importantly and to my delight, I have found Ramadan in Qatar to be a time of high spirits, festivity, warmth and generosity; so much of what this holy month should be about.
Credit: Photo courtesy of W Doha’s Facebook page