dinsdag 30 juni 2015

Ramadan in Qatar... What`s it like?

As a convert I spent most of my Ramadans back home in a non-muslim environment. This meant that although the atmosphere of Ramadan could be felt in my own home, you couldn`t notice Ramadan the moment you set foot outside. Daily life just continued at its normal pace, the streets looked the same, people did the same things, ... Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. 

It`s my 3rd Ramadan in Qatar this year and I definitely prefer spending this precious month here. Ramadan is reflected in every aspect of daily life and the country just breathes the atmosphere of this holy month. But what is so different between fasting here and fasting back home? What makes Ramadan here such a special time of the year? 

Sunset on the first night of Ramadan at Souq Waqif in Al Wakrah. 

Here`s a list of Qatari traditions and things to know about Ramadan in Qatar!

1. Timings 

A day of fasting in Qatar is definitely shorter than a day spent fasting in Belgium. At least in the summer that is. While people in Belgium have to fast a total of 18-19 hours, in Qatar it`s about 15 hours. Fajr (Dawn) is around 3 AM and Maghreb (Sunset) around 6.30 PM. This means that iftar (the meal of breaking the fast) is mostly spent with many other people, whether at home or outside in restaurants. I remember my last Ramadans in Belgium, Maghreb time was already around 9 PM and it meant that breaking the fast with others was difficult and hardly happened. People were just too tired. It made for a lonely Ramadan... 

Also praying taraweeh at the mosque was almost impossible for a lot of people with such timings.  (Especially if you have to get up early in the morning for work!) 

On the other hand the climate in Belgium, even in summer, is rather mild, while temperatures in Qatar are reaching the fifties, so thirst is more of an issue here! 

2. Daily life turns upside down

Back home life just continued at its normal pace, but in Qatar, everything shifts during Ramadan. Supermarkets and stores will adjust their opening hours, restaurants are closed during fasting hours, while working hours are reduced. My husband f.ex. only has to work 5 hours during Ramadan instead of the normal 8. The whole country slows down during Ramadan. (At least during the day, things get really busy at night!) However, this does mean that if you need to get any paperwork done, chances are it`s not going to happen in Ramadan. So if you urgently need to settle some administration: be sure to get it done before Ramadan starts or wait patiently until the month has passed... 

For a list of this year`s opening hours for supermarkets, malls and restaurants, click here

3. Cannon shot at sunset

Being in a muslim country means that the breaking of the fast is signaled by the adhaan (call for prayer). But Qatar also has another tradition: every evening at sunset, a cannon shot is fired! This tradition is carried out across the Gulf region and other countries of the Middle East as well. 

The cannon used to be located next to the General Post Office, but now sits in the shade of the Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab Mosque or as it is commonly known the State Mosque. 

4. Ramadan decorations 

One of the main reasons I loved Christmas so much as a child (I was raised a Catholic) were the decorations and especially the lights. I don`t celebrate Christmas anymore today, but I still love that time of the year back home when the streets are decorated with millions of little twinkling lights. 
In Qatar, however, streets aren`t decorated during Christmas, but during Ramadan! 
The palm trees along the Corniche are draped in strings of lights and Katara, Qatar`s cultural Village and one of my favorite hang out spots in Doha, is definitely a must see during Ramadan... 

5. No drinking and eating in public 

In Qatar it is illegal to eat or drink in public during Ramadan. Non-muslims aren`t expected to fast, so non-muslims can still eat or drink in their homes or at work, but in a designated area. Although a lot of muslims won`t mind, it is advised to non-muslims living here to not eat or drink in front of muslims while in private. 

Throughout the year alcohol consumption in Qatar is restricted: there is only one store in Doha, Qatar Distribution Company, where non-muslims, with a permit, can buy alcohol (and pork) from, but it is closed during the entire month of Ramadan. Non-muslims can only consume these goods in the privacy of their own homes. However, alcohol is also served in some bars and hotels around Qatar, yet in Ramadan alcohol isn`t allowed to be served anywhere. 

People who are caught drinking or eating in public during Ramadan risk being fined and even imprisoned or deported. 

6. Lavish iftars

Although Ramadan is about leaving food and drink and overindulging in it when breaking the fast is definitely not what a muslim should do, a lot of restaurants and hotels prepare open buffets for iftar. Our family mostly eats iftar in the comfort of our own home, but we have attended several of these open buffets over the years and it makes for a fun night out during Ramadan. My favorite remains the one at Grand Heritage Hotel and Spa. The entrance and dining area are decorated in an oriental style and the food is absolutely amazing: my husband loves their roasted lamb and I am fond of their pasta station, where you can pick and choose your own pasta dish while a cook prepares it in front of you. They also serve a variety of European and Arabic sweets which really top off this iftar. What I also really like about this place is that they prepare a special prayer room for their guests. I remember attending an iftar in a Lebanese restaurant 2 years ago where me and my husband actually had to pray outside in the parking lot as there was no space at all to pray inside... 


For me, attending such an open buffet, is a once in a while occasion, a special evening out during Ramadan. (And a break from cooking for me!) But unfortunately some people attend such buffets every evening and overindulge in food after fasting. Every Ramadan hundreds of people end up in the ER at hospitals downtown after overeating and dozens get hospitalized with gastritis, dehydration and kidney problems. 

If you`ld like to enjoy an evening out during Ramadan, click here for a list of places that offer iftar and souhour (meal before dawn) in Doha this Ramadan. But be warned! ;-)

7. Garangao 

On the 14th night of Ramadan children in Qatar celebrate Garangao. They dress up in traditional clothing, sing a typical Garangao song and knock on their neighbor`s doors to receive nuts and candy. (Halloween anyone? Although in Qatar there are no monsters and ghosts involved!) 

Typical Garangao nuts and candy.

It is celebrated in all of the Gulf countries under different names. It is an immensely popular tradition in Qatar and Qatar Foundation, Aspire Zone and Katara all host events on this night with lot`s of fun and games for the kids. 

8. Corniche Car Parade 

Every evening, around an hour before sunset, the Corniche is the backdrop for what has become a Ramadan tradition in Qatar: the Corniche Car Parade. The recipe is simple: young men + fancy cars = boys having fun! Porsches, Lamborghinis, oldtimers, ... You can watch them all, every evening around 5 PM.
What this has to do with Ramadan remains a mystery to me, but let me just say: boys will be boys... 

Chantelle D`mello, Doha News. 

9. Taraweeh prayers 

Sheick Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab Mosque or the State Mosque.

During Ramadan muslims are encouraged to pray supererogatory prayers. Praying *taraweeh* in congregation at the mosque is an important part of Ramadan. The past years I often went to pray at my local mosque down the street, but I have always wanted to attend the prayers at the State Mosque as during Ramadan, local and internationally famous shuyuck (Plural of sheick) are invited to lead taraweeh prayers. One of the reciters I love listen to most is Sheick Saad Al Ghamdi, who is an annual guest in Qatar during Ramadan. Below is a list with the shuyuck who will be leading the taraweeh prayers this year. 

Turki Al Marri/ MalAllah Al Jaber/ Mohamed Taher/ Yousef Ashir (30 days)
Abubakr Al Shateri (9-11 Ramadan)
Mohamed Al Luhaydan (12-14 Ramadan) 
AbdelHadi Kanakri (14-16 Ramadan)
Yasir Al Dosari (17-18 Ramadan)
Saad Al Ghamdi (17-20 Ramadan)
AbdelWali Al Arkani (21-25 Ramadan)

I guess that sums it up! If you know of any Qatari traditions during Ramadan that I`ve forgotten, please tell me about them! 

Ramadan Mubarak!

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