table display in the Carrefour (grocery store)
Beginning at sunset on July 19 and for the next 30 days, Muslims around the world abstain from all things sensual from first light until dark. Yes that means no nookie. But more importantly, it means NO FOOD OR WATER. The most conservative faithful will not even swallow their own spit.
In Qatar temperatures often exceed 115F. And now it's humid too! Water leaks down the sides of buildings. Glasses fog. Computers and phones drip. Moisture shields the cityscape like a sandstorm. And during the day, when the sun burns hottest: Muslims. Do. Not. Drink. Water.
If Lent was a track meet (when Catholics cut a meal and abstain from meat on Fridays) - Ramadan would be the fasting Olympics.
Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims and one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The first verses of the Quran were revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) during this time. To Muslims, Ramadan means more than no food, drink or (ahem) relations:
"...The Arabic word for "fasting" (sawm) literally means 'to refrain'... every part of the body must be restrained. The tongue must be restrained from backbiting and gossip. The eyes must restrain themselves from looking at unlawful things. The hand must not touch or take anything that does not belong to it. The ears must refrain from listening to idle talk or obscene words. The feet must refrain from going to sinful places. In such a way, every part of the body observes the fast...Ramadan is a time to practice self-restraint; a time to cleanse the body and soul from impurities and re-focus one's self on the worship of God..." http://islam.about.com/od/ramadan/f/ramadanintro.htm
According to my Arabic class friends, Ramadan's sacrifices are met with great joy. Families are together, friends visit. People sleep late, read, pray. At night time, families gather to eat, drink and rejoice in the day's successful fast.
Non-muslims are not required to fast, but must follow the rules of Ramadan in public…or RISK ARREST: no eating, drinking, gum chewing, PDA, visible knees or shoulders. Morning coffee happens in manager's offices, quietly and behind closed doors. Since restaurants are closed during the day, coworkers host lunch in villas and apartments. On unhosted days, lunch happens in hotel back rooms - entrances hidden, drapes closed.
It takes some heavy-duty remembering not to sip water in the hot car as we zip about the city. But we'll find respectful ways to learn:
Cindi reads the Koran and studies Arabic (next class doesn't begin until the end of September!).
Cindi's pretty Koran
Bob (gasp!) works.
Bob and Krishna head for a site visit in 110 muggy degrees F (Bob keeps a tee shirt in his desk for these moisture rich inspections)
And after dark, when the cannon's boom indicates the end of the day's fast, we'll wander the city - and take in the happiness.