With Ramadan approaching, the dilemma for me as a non Muslim was to fast or not to fast? To be honest, I didn’t think about it for long and never had a doubt – of course I would fast. Since moving to Doha, I’ve been determined to assimilate ….. as far as a western, non Muslim, non Arabic speaker can! As regular readers will know, I prefer haggling in the Souq and dancing with the Yemeni boys, to drinking with ex-pats in hotel bars.
There were a few reasons for committing to the fast – not just to continue my immersion into the local culture, but also because I wanted to share the experience with my Muslim colleagues at work. Not only that, but I also wanted to test my own commitment, my self discipline and learn something about myself in the process. Lets face it, for a large part of the fasting time, I would be alone – particularly on the weekend – no one but me would know if I was breaking my fast – so the commitment needed to be total – for myself.
As all good Muslims know, Ramadan, the most holy of months, is a sunrise to sunset fast – where nothing at all is to pass the lips, including water. It is not simply about food and drink though – Muslims also refrain from smoking, sexual relations, swearing and sinful thoughts – in fact colleagues at work also refrain from being critical of others and try to stay calm and use the time for quiet reflection and further prayer. Ramadan lasts a month and is based on the sightings of the crescent moon.
In practical terms, in Doha, many venues close for the entire month – particularly those which offer alcohol and others only open after 7pm. Even the shopping malls pretty much close down between 1pm and 7pm – but they make up for it by being open until 2am!…. and the atmosphere is wonderful then – with families all coming out to play after their evening Iftar (breakfast). Working hours are also reduced – Al Jazeera move to a 6 hour working day and they have a Ramadan tent which offers employees Iftar at 6.30pm into the evening.
So on 10th July at 3am, I got up and had my first Suhoor, (the meal consumed before fajr (dawn)) – which for me is porridge with milk, bananas and chopped dates and a black lady grey tea! There are no strict guidelines to when or what you should eat for Suhoor, as long as it takes place before the first prayer of the day (At the moment, this is around 3.30am) …. Some colleagues of mine stay up til midnight or 1am and have their Suhoor then, and at 3am they drink alot of water.
I’ve been setting my Suhoor alarm every day for a couple of weeks now and I quite enjoy it. I have my porridge, and then spend a few moments standing on the balcony listening to the call to prayer – which is magical at that time of the morning, and then spend the next 15 hours consuming nothing at all until around 6.30pm when I hear the call to prayer and prepare my Iftar.
I follow tradition in breaking my fast with three dates, as the prophet, Muhammad did. I have mine with three spoons of yogurt. Muslims will usually then go to pray before starting the next course, which for most people Ive spoken to is soup. It is supposed to help the stomach open up and prepare it to receive more food.
This was also what I had with Raeda (a work colleague) and her family when I went there for what I can only describe as proper full on Iftar – absolutely amazing spread of food!! Normally, at home, I would follow the dates with a small salad and then have something a little later such as rice and lentils or noodles. Iftar with Raeda’s family was so wonderful – but because we hadn’t eaten for 15 hours, it was difficult to eat much of what they had prepared, despite the fact that it was all so delicious.
All the nations of the world were represented – Lasagna and Cannelloni, Cauliflower cheese, Arabic wheat based dishes with chicken, tomato and bean based dish, homous and flat bread, and something which Ive never had before – fresh dates! They were gorgeous and so sweet! Then later after much resting and looking at some family photos, they brought out some traditional arabic pastries then fruit salad – it really was like Christmas…..well in terms of the amount of food and the generosity and warmth.
Afterwards, Raeda and I went out to the local mall and had some fun window shopping for dresses and jewellery and then did some food shopping – which is not so easy when you’ve eaten alot!!
Anyway, I’m sticking to it so far and actually find it pretty easy during the week when I’m busy with work, not quite so easy on the weekend – but I have remained true to myself and have not broken the fast at all – even when alone. The hardest thing is the lack of water – I don’t miss the food at all and you will know that I’m used to going without food with my intermittent fasting – in fact I think it is doing wonders for my skin – it’s never looked so good!! ….but not drinking water for 15 hours is tough – especially when I’m running around at work in air conditioning inside and 45 degrees outside….. But then Ramadan isn’t about having an easy life, it is a test and one which I am relishing – despite my non Muslim credentials.