Susan Al Shahri

The Great and Not-So-Great About Ramadan

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As I write these words, I am sitting on my back steps here in Salalah in my traditional thobe budhail with two cats curled up on either side of me for warmth. We are quietly enjoying the monsoon drizzle and listening to the gentle rustle of the leaves on the fig, henna and frankincense trees. This is beginning to sound like a poem, isn’t it? Forgive me, I’ve been fasting for almost 12 hours and have another three to go. We do tend to get a little delirious towards the end of the day in Ramadan!

To be honest, I find it hard to believe the holy month of Ramadan is coming to an end. Despite the long hours of fasting, time flew. As we wait for the new moon to mark the end of fasting and the beginning of Eid, I find myself thinking about my favourite and not-so-favourite aspects of Ramadan in the 21st century.

I will definitely miss the atmosphere in Salalah during Ramadan. When an entire region is fasting together, it feels like a month-long celebration instead of a hassle. To be honest, I have no idea how Muslims in non-Muslim societies cope.

Thanks to shorter working hours and fewer commitments, I will miss the extra time for reflection and reading. I will miss the thousands of people rushing to make it to the mosque for every prayer and how everyone makes an extra effort to be calm and generous.

I will miss seeing plates of food being carried through the neighbourhood during the hour before sunset on their way to the mosque to feed fasting labourers. I’ll miss all the excited children who are fasting for the first time. I will miss peeking out of my window at 4am and seeing all the neighbours’ lights come on slowly one by one as they prepare for dawn. The list is long.

On the other hand, I will definitely not miss the Ramadan work ethic among Omani employees. I’m not exaggerating when I say next to nothing gets done in Ramadan. Muslims only work six hours during Ramadan, but most of them might as well not come to work at all. Somehow fasting and productivity don’t go well together for many people.

The obsession with food and the long line-ups at supermarkets at all hours of the day and night will not be missed either. Most families spend up to four or five hours in the kitchen each afternoon preparing to break the fast and end up making up to ten different deep-fried dishes, most of which go to waste. This completely contradicts the purpose of fasting in my opinion, but to each his own, I suppose. In my home, my mother and I have dinner down to a 54-minute art. In the hour before sunset, we manage to produce a starter, a healthy main course and occasionally a dessert.

Believe it or not, our meals don’t even involve the basic Omani Ramadan staples – oil, samosa wraps, puff pastry, crème caramel and Vimto. Sleeping well at night and fitting in a healthy breakfast before sunrise means I have energy during most of the day, for which I am grateful.

One aspect of Ramadan that drives me crazy is the increasing commercialism. I find I am able to shut myself off most of the time because I never really go into town during Ramadan. Furthermore (brace yourselves), my house is probably the only remaining house in the sultanate without cable television.

I can just about handle the very short episode of the Omani Ramadan cartoon Yom wa Yom in the evenings on Oman TV because I find it hilarious. However, the empty and mindless commercials that come on every five minutes during the episode remind me why I choose never to watch television. Life’s too short.

I will not miss all the daily phone messages from car dealerships trying to brainwash me into believing I need a brand new RO25,000 car because I’m delirious, hungry and looking for distractions that don’t involve food. What is it with car deals during Ramadan anyway?

I’m sad to see the holy month end because it’s a special time of year; a time of reflection, discipline and spirituality. However, I am also guilty of looking forward to going back to my normal work and study schedule. Trust me, trying to do post-graduate work while fasting is like pulling a tooth. Come next week, I’ll be reunited with my sacred morning mug of coffee and I might just be able to catch up on all my studying…Insha Allah!

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