The holy month of Ramadan(which we call Ramzan in India) is going to start from tomorrow. It’s a special month for thousands of Muslims throughout the world. Its ingrained in their culture and thoughts. They look forward to it but for many people like me (expats) living in a Muslim country Kuwait, it’s not a time to lead a normal life. Some people dread it as the entire day-to-day schedule changes. But when we live in a country with different culture and customs, why not try to learn, enjoy and appreciate the significance of this blessed month and its unique experiences?
The word “Ramadan” comes from the root “ramida” or “ar-ramad”,which means dryness or heat. It’s the ninth month of the Islamic calendar or the Hijri calendar based on the lunar year. It begins with the sighting of the new moon and is marked by prayer, fasting and charity. Muslims should also be away from sexual activity and should not eat or drink from dawn to dusk. The fast begins with “sudhoor”, a light meal eaten prior to daylight. At the end of the day the fast is broken with a prayer and a meal call the “iftar”. Any type of food is eaten but the most popular are dates, honey, breads, fruits and olives. Islam is a very considerate religion as minors and mentally retarded are exempted from fasting. And others like aged people can also exempt from fasting by donating a meal to the needy, while people like pregnant women, sick, travelers can fast equivalent number of days later. It’s a time to strengthen family and community ties as they invite one another to share in the Ramadan evening meal. For them it’s a time for late night socializing.
As Holy Quran states “O you who believes! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, so that you may develop Taqwa”(2:183). “Taqwa” is an Arabic word which means state of heart that motivates virtuous conduct and prevents evil action. Thus the holy month provides an annual training opportunity that is meant to fulfill the character building needs for the rest of the year. Fasting serves many purposes. While they are hungry and thirsty, they are reminded of the poor. It also gives the opportunity to practice self control, self discipline and generosity.
For the last three years I have been in Kuwait during the holy month of Ramadan. On the first day of Ramadan I was surprised to see a complete different picture of Kuwait. The streets deserted, departmental shops and malls which always remain full with activities were closed during the day. It was like a Chaka Bandh in India. I enjoy the luxury of getting up late as office timings are re-schedule. People have a relax work time as most government offices usually work between 8.30am to 2.30pm. So are the school hours. From small shops to big malls, restaurants and cafes and all commercial activities remain suspended from morning to dusk and have irregular hours. And those breaking the rules of Ramadan are fined and punished by the government.
But after dusk, all of a sudden the country hustles and bustles with activities. Big shops and malls provide iftar and the entire city gets a festive look .The shops are flooded with different items and they try to attract the buyers by giving special “Ramadan Sale”. Nights in Kuwait gain a new life as people often stay awake socializing and marketing until dawn. Rich Kuwaitis and charitable organization circulate Ramadan gifts, including food items to poor, needy and low income families. I was surprised when children from different residential complex today knocked at my door and gave sweets and chocolates and asked for girgan. I asked my harish(Kuwaiti word for housekeeper) what it is all about. He told me that “Girgan” is a traditional Kuwaiti festival during the middle of Ramadan when children in traditional dress‘s , sing song and visit residential complex’s and distribute chocolates and ask for sweets and candy’s .
The entire Kuwait experience a festive mood. Even at 1 or 2am in the morning one will have difficulty in finding a place to park one’s car. One feel as if the entire country is out shopping and enjoying. But though every nook and corner of the country has a celebratory mood, but the best place to experience the traditional atmosphere of Ramadan in Kuwait, is in the old souks of Mubarakiya. It’s a unique experience to move in the narrow lanes of the souks and be part of hundreds of shoppers that throng the narrow lanes.
Although it’s the Muslims who fast, many non Muslim expats also fast as they do don’t like to eat before their fasting colleagues. What’s impressing and inspiring is the will power people show by fasting in the hot weather. At the beginning of Ramadan, people wish Muslims “Ramadan Kareem” and at the end of the holy month “Eid Mubarak”. The end of Ramadan is marked by a three day special period call “ Eid-ul-Fitr” ,the “ Festival of Fast Breaking”. It’s said to be a gala time in Kuwait as in all Muslim countries, beginning with a special prayer and accompanied by celebration, socializing, festive meals and gift giving. People dress in their finest clothes and adorn their homes with lights and decorations. It’s “Deepawali”time here. I am eagerly waiting for Eid , to enjoy and be part of Kuwait in their celebration.