Ramadan Kareem! and Other Matters Related to #Ramadan2019

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Sunday, May 5th marks the start of Ramadan 2019. Based on the visual sighting of the crescent moon, the month typically lasts 29-30 days. Ramadan is based on the Hijri calendar (a lunar calendar consisting of 12 months of 354 or 355 days), not the Gregorian calendar (a solar calendar of 12 months of 365.2425 days).

Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is a month of prayer, spiritual reflection, and fasting. From sunrise to sunset, all able-bodied adults Muslims should fast. However, exceptions are made for people who are traveling, suffering from an illness, elderly, and pregnant or menstruating women. At sunset during Ramadan, Muslims break their fast with the Iftar meal, and to prepare for a day of fasting, they eat a pre-dawn Suhoor meal.

This will be my second year experiencing Ramadan in Doha, Qatar. Last year, the month began two weeks before the end of the 2018 Spring Semester at Qatar University (QU). This posed challenges for many students and faculty because they had to finish up classes and prepare for exams without food, water, caffeine, and nicotine throughout the day. I still remember the look on the faces of my male students last Ramadan who were pale faced, dry lipped, and a little testy when they made the abrupt shift to fasting.

For the entire month of Ramadan, life in Qatar adjusts for the Muslims and non-Muslims living in the country. First, most restaurants are not open throughout the day. Grocery stores, however, are open so that families have access to ingredients they need to prepare the Iftar meals. The only restaurants that are open are the ones located in 4- or 5-star hotels that cater to international travelers. Additionally, the entire country goes dry for the month with the Qatar Distribution Company closing (the sole liquor store in Qatar), and all hotel bars refrain from the sale of alcohol. Second, it is a major faux pas for non-Muslims to eat, drink, and smoke in public during Ramadan. If a person wishes to eat or drink during the day, they should do it in the privacy of their home, office, or (in some cases) car with tinted windows. Third, much of the human activity during Ramadan shifts to evening and the night, so the operating hours of restaurants, stores, and malls also adjusts. For example, malls might be open from 10am to 3pm and then 7pm to 12am.

Just like with the Judeo-Christian holidays, the retail and restaurant industry has strategized how to market to consumers during the month of Ramadan. Retail isn’t as affected as restaurants because consumers can still shop for products during the morning operating hours as well as the extended night hours. In fact, many international department stores operating in Qatar have special offerings during Ramadan.

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Most restaurants, on the other hand, have a collapsed window in order to sell food. They cannot operate until the designated Iftar time, which is approximately 6:07pm this year. So, in order to entice diners during Ramadan, most restaurants offer an Iftar and Suhoor dinner special. The fancy restaraunts in the 4- and 5-star hotels provide elaborate buffets, and run-of-the-mill establishments will even offer an Iftar dinner menu for the month.

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At the end of Ramadan is Eid Al Fitr. This holiday marks the end of the fasting and is a time when many Muslims travel for vacation or spend time with friends and family outside of the country. In order to cater to this interest, Qatar’s premier airline offers different travel packages to the jet set crowd. Relatedly, I was able to purchase very affordable tickets to Taipei, Taiwan to visit friends this upcoming Eid Al Fitr.

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Still, before one is able to enjoy Eid Al Fitr, they must make it through the month of Ramadan. And, to ensure that QU employees stay healthy while they fast, the university sent out an email with these reminders.

Subject: Simple Tips to Keep Healthy through the Holy Month of Ramadan

  1. Drink 8 glasses of water daily from Iftar to Suhour to prevent dehydration and constipation.
  2. Sleep for 6-8 hours a day to get sufficient mental and physical rest.
  3. Have a balanced varied Iftar which incorporates dates, soup, salad, a main dish, fruits and a small piece of Ramadan sweet.
  4. Walk or participate in some kind of physical activity.
  5. Walk or participate in some kind of physical activity.

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