Ramadan - a guide for non-Muslims
What is special about Ramadan?
What happens during Ramadan?
Throughout Ramadan, families get together to share food and company in the evenings and night-time, and the emphasis is always on reflection, prayer and charity. Ramadan is not a commercialised festival.
Extra tips for Gulf travelers:
Dress code during Ramadan is more restrained. Legs, shoulders and arms should be covered. In stricter quarters, even the wearing of jewellery is frowned upon, though this is not universal.
Alcohol outlets (if any) usually remain closed throughout the month. In Dubai, hotel bars open in the evenings (after Iftar) but with no live music. The Filipino bands are often allowed home for the month. In stricter states, bars are closed for the whole month, even for residents (though minbars may be stocked).
Lewd or offensive gestures or speech, never popular in Islam, are particularly to be avoided during this month when people are trying to keep their minds pure. But that's always good advice!
Some tips for non-Muslims
If you live in an Islamic country (I live in Qatar), Ramadan is enshrined in law; it is not simply a religious option. You are not obliged to fast, but you are required to respect the traditions. Here are some tips to avoid accidental offence:
- Take a good breakfast in the privacy of your apartment before venturing out for the day. If you must have lunch, take a packed lunch and find a private place to eat it. Better still, try to do without. Most of us carry a few extra pounds anyway.
- Don't snack - avoid coffees, sweets, gum, etc. during the day. Most of this is habit, rather than necessity, so it's a good discipline. You'll want to drink water. Try to find a private place.
- Try not to smoke. If you really must, find a private place, but also consider why you must!
Postscript - tips on fasting
- For your per-dawn meal, choose slow energy release foods like pasta, rice or whole meal bread. Avoid empty calories (sugar and sweets) and avoid fried or heavily salted foods that will make you thirsty all day. Drink plenty of water with this meal.
- During the day, unless you wish to be very strict with yourself as a discipline, drinking water is better for your health than doing without, especially in hot countries. Dehydration is not good for the body.
- When you break your fast at sunset, take a little fruit and water first (dates are traditionally served) to take the edge off your hunger. Then take dinner later in the evening.
- Go to bed early as you will be rising early to eat. Sleep deprivation has no health advantages.
Ramadan Kareem! And thanks for reading.