An expat’s guide to Ramadhan

Ray Petersen –

Ramadhan intimidates many of those new to the Sultanate because they don’t know anything about it! They are not scared of Ramadhan like, for example a shark in the water, but are often apprehensive about the prospect of doing something wrong, and offending someone. So, I thought I would help any ‘newbies’ in town, with some advice and guidance.

So what is Ramadhan? It is the month that celebrates the ‘Night of Power,’ or Laylat al Qadr, the handing down from Allah, or God, to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the year 610 of the Gregorian calendar, and is the most sacred month of the year in the Islamic culture. The Prophet is said to have declared, “When the month of Ramadhan starts, the gates of Heaven are opened, and the gates of Hell are closed and the Devils chained.”

Why? Ramadhan is seen by the faith as a time to demonstrate their commitment to Allah, and their wider communities. Charity work, good deeds and sharing of one’s wealth are the hallmarks of community service during the holy month. It is often felt that Ramadhan should be celebrated as if it is their last, ensuring forgiveness for any earlier sins. The commitment to the Zakat, or daily prayers become more important during Ramadhan.

When is Ramadhan? It falls during the ninth month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar, which this year is predicted, scientifically through astronomical calculations, to occur from the 5th or 6th of May. However, most Islamic societies regard the scientific evidence only as guidance, and in most parts of the world, the crescent moon must be visibly sighted with the naked eye by religious leaders, before the official declaration of Ramadhan takes place.

What about eating and drinking during Ramadhan? It is a form of physical detox, or cleansing that celebrates the absolute commitment to the faith. Muslims fast during the hours of daylight. They will usually rise early to state their intention to fast throughout the day. This is called the niyyah, then they will usually consume a light, high protein breakfast, known as Suhoor, before the sunrises, and then fast until after dusk when water and dates will traditionally be taken, prayers attended, and then families and extended families will usually meet for an Iftar, or dinner together. If the fast is broken for any reason, it should be made up for, later.

Are there any other Ramadhan ‘restrictions?’ Yes. Muslims must refrain from smoking, fornication, violence, lies, and even gossip. Those who are frail or unwell may break the fast for the sake of their health, but their penance takes the form of feeding a poor person for each day of fasting that is missed. All of these so-called ‘restrictions’ are aimed at returning a Muslim’s focus back to their faith, and recognition that faith is their strength and salvation.

Any other good advice? During Ramadhan, the Islamic population will prove very understanding but don’t challenge their goodwill by dressing immodestly. ‘No skin please,’ is a handy rule, for men and women. Please, no music or dancing, and one thing we probably never think about is our constant references to Ramadhan being good for weight loss. Really, that’s just a vanity thing and has no place in the Islamic thinking during the holy month. At the end of the day, it could be seen as flippant and disrespectful. Finally, there will be a shorter working day announced by national governments in Islamic societies, reflecting the demands of the fasting over 15 to 18 hours in some parts of the world.

So what about me? Do I have to pray? Prayer is a matter for you and your faith. Maybe if you are inspired to pray by Ramadhan or any of its traditions, it is a sign from God that you should?

What about fasting? We are living in another country and another society. It makes sense, to me anyway, to be respectful and observe the cultural etiquette of the Sultanate. The examples are all around us, our colleagues will not eat, food will not be available or displayed, and it might even be a healthy exercise for us? And if you are celebrating a birthday, why not schedule it so your Islamic friends can participate fully with you, after dusk?

When will Ramadhan end? A month after it starts, there is a three-day celebration known as Eid Al Fitr. It’s celebrated in much the same way as Christmas in many Western societies, and while gluttony is frowned upon, there is certainly an emphasis on the ‘special’ foods, gifts are exchanged, and family values are celebrated, or reinforced perhaps more appropriately.

How can I share in the Ramadhan experience? Firstly by your greetings, say Ramadhan Kareem, which is the equivalent of “have a nice Ramadhan,” or Ramadhan Mubarak, the same as “Happy Ramadhan,” and you are sure to draw smiles! Embrace the Ramadhan experience, and take up offers to attend a genuine Iftar. You will enjoy it.

I don’t want to offend anyone. What if I forget? One of the key elements of the Islamic faith is forgiveness, so unless you are being antagonistic, you will be forgiven. Dress appropriately, and keep those public displays of affection for after the Maghrib, or evening prayers. Just perhaps be a little more considerate, and less hurried than you usually are, and you’ll have no problems.
So that’s a bit of information about Ramadhan, and hopefully it, for you, is less mysterious. It is certainly not to be feared, and you shouldn’t be intimidated by it, but should use its example as an opportunity to reflect upon your own life, and faith.