I have been asked if I would share my Ramadhan reflections, being a resident, teacher, lecturer and journalist in the Sultanate for more than 10 years.
My initial experience of Ramadhan was while working in Dubai for three years, where I had a mixed international workforce to supervise consisting of British, South African, Australian, New Zealand, Indian and Pakistani employees. We would start work at 3 am daily, go through until 8 or 9 am, then take a break, returning at 3 pm till around 6 pm. We were working those hours to avoid the intense heat of the middle of the day, so Ramadhan did not have a significant effect upon our working days, or even our lives at that time.
What was noticeable however was the ground-staff, the Indians and Pakistanis, interacted so much better during the observance of Ramadhan, and were happier and livelier, the whole place just seemed to run so much easier for the month. Not like the other eleven months of the year when the two groups ‘co-existed’, but it was always an uneasy ‘peace’.
Offence would be easily taken, minor issues were exaggerated and the cricket matches they played daily, were sometimes just an excuse for conflict. But during Ramadhan, all was sweetness and light. The European expats each year would ‘pass the hat around’, and give the ground-staff the proceeds, which usually meant they would get 1,000 dhms each, and the leftovers went on Coca-Cola, they loved the stuff!
Oman, ten years later was a much different ‘kettle of fish’. Whether it is the passage of time, or what, Oman is the quietest, most amenable, gentle nation one would ever visit or live in, and Ramadhan here is special to everyone, yet the goodness and kindness of Ramadhan lasts all year round.
Is Ramadhan an inconvenience? From my personal perspective yes. Being unable to live, eat and work in my normal pattern of work is an inconvenience, but a minor one. I have learned to modify the way in which I do things during Ramadhan to comply with its requirements, for although I am not of the faith, I do not wish to antagonise, offend or disrespect those who are, or their religion.
Am I inconvenienced by the shorter workdays, and the altered opening hours of retailers and services? I think everyone who experiences their first Ramadhan here gets caught out in some way. Equally, you soon learn to adjust, and it does not remain an issue. I think another reality is that few European expats eat at restaurants here during the day in any case, so their being closed is no inconvenience at all.
Have I attended an iftar meal in Oman? Yes, both community and private iftars, and the amount of food is always staggering. As someone said, “It is like having Christmas Dinner every day for a month”. And like Christmas Dinner for we Christians, somehow, all the food does seem to find a home. I understand that many people here, in preparing their banquet, will have also considered how they can package and distribute the ‘leftovers’ to the less affluent, whoever they may be. That is immensely praiseworthy.
On the whole, we come to appreciate and respect Ramadhan for what it is, and try not to intrude upon the reflective nature of this remarkable time of year, when millions band together in a month-long statement of support for their faith. Ramadhan Kareem.