Not long now until the arrival of the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and the arrival the month that the Qu’ran was first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) marking the most important month for Muslims. In Islam Ramadan is the time to practice self-restraint; to strengthen ties with family and friends and essentially to cleanse the body and soul and re-focus one’s self on the worship of God. The Arabic word for “fasting” (‘sawm’) literally means “to refrain”. During Ramadan Muslims will wake up just before sunrise to eat a pre-fast meal (known as ‘suhoor’) and then not drink, eat, chew gum, smoke and exchange until sunset when it is traditional to break the fast with a meal called ‘iftar’ some 14 hours later. Muslims will also refrain from sexual contact during daylight hours. Excluded from fasting are the physically or mentally unwell, or people travelling, or being pregnant, or menstruating as are children under twelve. Muslims should try to make up the fast at a later date, or make a donation to the poor instead if they miss it. The month of Ramadan is coming to an end with celebration of Eid-Al-Fitr.
So what is going to be different for expats during the Holy Month?
- First of all restaurants and cafes will be closed during the day (except for those in 4- and 5- star hotels where you can eat discreetly tucked away). So no more grabbing a cappuccino on the go for one month…
- Governmental institutions and most businesses will run shorter opening times (8am – 2pm). This might also mean a shorter workday for expats!
- Also, some shops are closed during the day and open at night until the early hours of the morning or close for an extended lunch break (8am – noon and then 4 – 8pm). You are advised to better check before you set off. Shops in malls generally open at the normal time but stay open until deep into the night.
- Grocery stores are open as usual. You will also still be able to buy your spare ribs and breakfast bacon during Ramadan!
- The couple of shops on the island where you can buy alcohol though will be closed for the month. So stock up now!
- Licensed restaurants will not sell alcohol during this month and there will be no background music or any other entertainment.
- Last but not least (and maybe an obvious one) don’t schedule a kids birthday party during this month.
What else is there to know?
- Remember that it is prohibited to eat, drink or smoke in public here in Bahrain. This also includes your car as it is seen as a public space. So be conscious and thoughtful before you open that bottle of water or chew gum. Find a private space where you can be discreet instead. Hotels serve food and drink during the day tucked away from general sight.
- The Holy Month is a time of prayer and humility so be conscious of what you wear. Ensure that knees and shoulders are covered and avoid tight fit clothes. Pashminas are great for covering up during Ramadan. It is advisable for men are to wear long sleeves and long trousers in public spaces.
- It is polite to greet Muslims with “Ramadan Kareem” (it is the ‘generous’ month as deeds are multiplied by 10 during Ramadan) or “Ramadan Mubarak’, and at the end of Ramadan, for the three day Eid celebrations, “Eid Mubarak”.
- Refrain from showing demonstrative acts of affection in public (i.e. hugs or kisses). This applies year round but especially during Ramadan.
- Respect the peace by not playing loud music in your home or car.
- Be charitable and be generous to those less fortunate by donating food, clothes or money to individuals and charitable organisations. This is an important element of the Holy Month and Muslims are expected to give Zakat which is approximately 2.5% of their annual savings to the less fortunate. There are many ways to get involved by, e.g., filling a fridge for Feed The Need or donating unwanted clothes and toys to a charity. You can also acknowledge your Muslim maid or gardener with a token gift.
- Avoid critical remarks about fasting or any other religious practice. Remember that it is difficult to function on no food and water. Fasting can play havoc with a person’s eating and sleeping habits, so be sympathetic to people around you. If you feel yourself getting irate or angry just take a deep breath and smile!
- Avoid driving at sundown when the roads fill with people heading to break their fast at Iftar celebrations. They haven’t eaten, or had a drink since the early hours of the morning. If you don’t need to be on the road at that time, you would be wise to wait half an hour.
I for myself, will make sure to enjoy the slower pace here and will make sure to hit some hotel-based Iftar tents, soak up some local life, and spend time relaxing with family and friends.