The holy month of Ramadan is when Muslims across the world fast completely during the daylight hours of each day until the maghrib (sunset) prayer, refraining from food and drink, and as well as intimate contact and smoking. This year, Ramadan is expected to begin around 13 April 2021.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The Holy Quran was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad during the holy month of Ramadan on a night known as Laylat Al Qadr (The Night of Destiny or Power). In addition, fasting during Ramadan is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam, meaning it’s an obligation for Muslims.
The fasting period during Ramadan is called ‘sawm’ which literally means ‘to refrain’. As a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice, Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking. Muslims are to refrain from evil actions as well, including thoughts and words. Muslims are called upon to use this month to re-evaluate their lives in light of Islamic guidance. They are to make peace with those who have wronged them, strengthen ties with family and friends, do away with bad habits – essentially cleansing their lives, thoughts and feelings.
The Islamic calendar
The Islamic calendar, also known as the Hijri calendar, is based on the cycles of the moon and so the date of Ramadan changes every year according to the Gregorian calendar. This year, it’s expected to begin around 13 April and end on 13 May 2021.
Every month begins with the sighting of a new moon in the Hijri calendar. This means that Ramadan can differ slightly from country to country as the new moon is sighted.
The week leading up to Ramadan can be quite exciting, as each country declares Ramadan. The new moon has to be sighted with the naked eye by Muslims in Qatar and in other Muslim countries, who then report to a special committee and if consensus is obtained, Ramadan is declared. Expectation is high in Qatar as the holy month of Ramadan is the most anticipated month of the Islamic calendar.
The first verses of the Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan on Laylat Al Qadr (The Night of Destiny or Power). It is thought to take place around the last 10 days of Ramadan, generally on the 23rd to the 27th day of the month. Muslims believe that on Laylat Al Qadr, God blesses everyone, forgives all sins, grants all prayers, and angels come down to earth.
Muslims believe the Quran is the sacred message from Allah to humanity. The Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by God in stages – first from Allah to the angel Gabriel and then to Prophet Muhammad. This message was given to the Prophet in pieces over a period spanning approximately 23 years (610 CE to 632 CE). The Prophet was 40 years old when the Quran began to be revealed to him, and he was 63 when the revelation was completed. The language of the original message was in Classical Arabic (CA). Also known as Quranic Arabic, CA is the form of the Arabic language used in literary texts from Umayyad and Abbasid times (7th to 9th centuries).
The Quran is one of two sources that form the basis of Islam. The second source is the sunnah of the Prophet. Unlike the sunnah, the Quran is literally the Word of Allah, whereas the sunnah is the wording and actions of the Prophet. The Quran has not been expressed using any human’s words. Its wording is letter for letter fixed by no one but Allah. Today’s readers can find exact copies of it all over the world. The Quran of today is the same as the Quran revealed to Prophet Muhammad 1,400 years ago.
It’s sunnah for Muslims to break their fast with dates. Some Muslims break their fast with dates and laban (yoghurt), to ease themselves into eating again and prepare their stomachs. After this, they pray the maghrib prayer either before or after having iftar, which is the evening meal in which Muslims break their fast. When there was little access to clocks, a cannon was fired every day during Ramadan to mark the end of the fasting period. Until today, in Qatar, a cannon is fired every day to mark the end of the fast and the beginning of iftar time.
In the Gulf region, many families eat separately. Men congregate at the majlis, a reception room for male guests attached to the family home. The women of the house prepare a huge amount of food for the family, friends and neighbours. Breaking the fast is like a nightly celebration – daily. The second most important meal after iftar is the suhoor, which is a pre-dawn meal. Suhoor is the meal consumed early morning before fajr prayer – before sunrise – which is when Muslims begin the fasting or sawm during Ramadan. Suhoor is regarded by Islamic traditions as a benefit of the blessings in that it allows the person fasting to avoid weakness caused by the fast.
In addition to fasting, Muslims attempt to read the whole Quran, which comprises 114 chapters. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world follow the example of Prophet Muhammad, staying awake and standing in long prayers, striving to get closer to Allah. Besides the obligatory five prayers Muslims perform on a daily basis, during Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to perform non-obligatory, additional night prayers. The most important of these during Ramadan is Tarawih, which is an evening prayer performed daily at the mosque. The second most important prayer in Ramadan is Qiyam Al Layl, which is also known as Tahajjud prayer. Tahajjud is preferably offered after midnight but before fajr. Like the Tarawih, Qiyam Al Layl is a night prayer but only performed on the last 10 days of Ramadan.
The exceptions (the non-fasting)
Every able Muslim is required to fast with the exception of the elderly, the sick (cancer, diabetes, transplant recipient) and infirm, pregnant and nursing mothers, and travellers. If they can, they are expected to make up the days missed before the next Ramadan. In addition, children are not obligated to fast during Ramadan until they reach puberty. However, children gradually begin practising fasting around the age of seven.
This year, Ramadan will fall around 13 April. It will be warm and so it’s best to refrain from walking anywhere in the heat as you will suffer from dehydration. If you are taking medication you should consult your doctor before fasting. When breaking your fast and during the non-fasting hours, try and eat slow-digesting, high-fibre foods that contain grains (oats, barley and lentils), and more fruit and dairy products. Drinking more liquids will help you avoid lethargy and low blood pressure. It’s advisable to reduce your caffeine and tobacco consumption slowly before and during Ramadan to avoid headaches; you don’t want to be suffering from withdrawal!
Around the 14th day of Ramadan, children in Qatar and the Gulf celebrate a traditional festival called Garangao. They go from door to door in groups, dressed in traditional costumes with large bags chanting ‘Give us something and Allah will give you. The house of Mecca, he will take you.’ It is a good idea to stock up on nuts, dried fruit and sweets to fill their bags and send them away happy. It’s a celebration that Qatari children look forward to all year round. Some people adorn their homes with lights for Garangao, Eid Al Fitr, and Ramadan.
Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha
Every year, Muslims look forward to two of the most important festivals of the Islamic calendar – Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha. This year, Eid Al Fitr is expected to fall on 13 May 2021 and Eid Al Adha on 20 July 2021 – depending on the moon sighting.
Eid Al Fitr, which is also known as the Feast of Breaking the Fast, falls on the first day of the Islamic month, Shawwal, which follows the holy month of Ramadan. The joyous three-day festival is the conclusion to Ramadan. It is a time when Muslims celebrate the occasion with family and friends and give charity to those in need. In most Muslim countries, the entire three-day festival is an official government/school holiday.
Approximately 70 days after Eid Al Fitr comes Eid Al Adha. Known as the Festival of Sacrifice, Eid Al Adha is a remembrance of Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son when God ordered him to. The Eid or festival is also known as the Great Festival as it lasts longer than Eid Al Fitr, lasting for four days rather than three. Eid Al Adha is always on the same day in the Islamic calendar. The date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year since the Islamic calendar is lunar and the Gregorian is a solar calendar.
When you’re out and about town you will see many of the houses adorned with lights for the festival. It’s customary to wish people ‘Eid Mubarak’ which means ‘Blessed Eid’.
Ramadan do’s and don’ts
During Ramadan in Qatar, it’s illegal to smoke, drink, eat and even chew gum in public places for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. If you flout the rules you could end up with a fine from the police or even in prison. In addition, avoid singing or dancing in public and dress more conservatively and modestly, especially if you are a woman. All cafés, restaurants, juice stalls and fast food outlets close during the day and reopen after sunset. However, hotels remain open to serve their guests though a majority of restaurants and cafés in hotels will close during the day. During Ramadan, alcohol is completely banned. Restaurants will not sell alcohol, and Qatar Distribution Company (QDC), bars, lounges and nightclubs close for the month.
Opening times of shops change; most shops close around noon (when it’s the hottest), but are open in the morning and late into the night. Some supermarkets open during the afternoon, but it is best to check with your local store. After sunset, malls and souqs become incredibly busy and parking spaces are scarce. During Ramadan, working hours are shorter. According to Qatar Labour Laws, you may only work 36 hours a month during Ramadan, which is six hours a day. Offices usually close around 2 pm.
We fast, too!
Qatar brings together people from various parts of the world with different faiths. Although the practice of religious fasting is most commonly attributed to Islam, many other religions engage in a form of fasting.
The Catholic Church historically observes the disciplines of fasting and abstinence at various times each year. For Catholics during Lent, fasting is 40 days, consisting of lessening one’s intake of food, while abstinence refers to refraining from meat (or another type of food). The purpose of fasting is spiritual focus, self-discipline, imitation of Christ, and performing penance. The Copts, who belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, observe fasting periods according to the Coptic calendar, fasting between 180 to 210 days a year. Copts adhere to a vegan diet, thus abstaining from meat, fish, eggs, dairy and other animal products.
The Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year in Judaism. Jewish people traditionally observe this holy day with an approximate 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services. In Hinduism, there is a diverse range of fasting practices that depend on factors such as personal beliefs, local customs and preferred deities.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is also one of the world’s most popular health and fitness trends. IF is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating.
Ramadan at night
Doha comes alive at night with two of the most enjoyable aspects of Ramadan – iftar and suhoor offerings at hotels and restaurants across the country. Many hotels and restaurants set up Ramadan tents specifically for these nightly gathering, open from sunset until the early hours of the morning. It’s a sociable way to break your fast – sampling Arabic food at a lavish buffet with live Arabic music and shishah. Typically, there will be traditional food from all around the Arabic world, from tajines to machboos.
You can also check out our Hospitality Section for more Ramadan offers and deals.
Please note that health and safety precautions are still very much in place in Qatar to curb the spread of COVID-19. Everyone is required to wear masks at all times, practice social distancing and avoid unnecessary gathering. Many establishments also require that guests show a Green Ehteraz status upon entry.
Author: Ola Diab
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