People & Culture

Ramadan Gulf

Each year, before the Holy Month begins with a rise of the hilal (crescent) moon, the township of Manama is heaving with a multitude of activities…

…shopping malls and movie theatres are full to the brim alongside bars and restaurants. The storm before the calm, so to speak! As indeed, a serene peacefulness descends upon Bahrain when Ramadan is announced (at least during the daylight hours). This religious tradition of fasting and prayer has always been a bit of an enigma to me, and I suppose to most Westerners. Thus, with a blessing from my editor, I decided to embark on some “serious” scientific research (aka to pester my kind Muslim friends with various questions).

Interestingly enough, quite a few of my interviewees compared Ramadan with Christmas, as it’s a time to be spent with one’s family. Some pointed out its similarities to Lent, because pivotal points of both are self-restraint and forsaking bad habits. But everyone unanimously agreed, that Ramadan these days is not what it used to be in their childhood. It suffered the fate similar to which Christmas has befallen, having been hijacked by consumerism and commerce. One succumbs to the pressure of buying more food than needed, purchasing loads of decorations and gifts, and then… some more food (as we do like to eat here, don’t we, even if the hours allocated for this pleasure are temporarily reduced).

However, if in doubt regarding certain restrictions, always revert to a very handy rule of thumb – common courtesy and respect to the others, and you will not go far wrong.

It’s customary to give, as charitable giving is strongly encouraged during the Holy Month. Some indeed take it all seriously, but sadly ranks of those who comprehend the true meaning and purpose of this practice are dwindling. Ramadan is becoming more of a social and cultural obligation than the act of faith. Nevertheless, I think, we, of a different faith and cultural backgrounds, should be respectful of our Muslim neighbours. The magic dust of childhood Ramadan memories might have faded for some, but the restrictions they’re facing during the fasting hours are still there; they must refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, even gossiping and cursing, and also from “you-know-what”. Surprisingly, everyone I asked, showed an amazing tolerance, as they understand that we, foreigners, do not understand certain aspects of Ramadan.

However, if respect is shown to their tradition, it’s highly appreciated. And inevitably, certain misdemeanours were mentioned. Interestingly, inappropriate clothing was at the top of the list, because if a gentleman finds himself…enlivened by a scarcely clad lady in public, it breaks his fast against his will. Some find smoking more offensive, than say, drinking a glass of water. However, as my dear friend quite accurately pointed out, would you stuff your face in the presence of a bedridden invalid who can not eat? No. So why do some deem acceptable to partake in various sustenance in front of a fasting Muslim?

However, if in doubt regarding certain restrictions, always revert to a very handy rule of thumb – common courtesy and respect to the others, and you will not go far wrong.

Ramadan Kareem!

 

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