This week the Muslim world was greeted by the arrival of the first week of Ramadan. Of course Qatar takes Ramadan as seriously as everything else so there is no dilution in the traditions and rituals. The gist of Ramadan of course is that Muslims cannot eat from sunrise to sunset. Sunrise at the moment is approximately 4.30a.m. I know this because I’m usually having my 53rd toilet break around then, joys of being four months pregnant. Sunset is around 6.30p.m. and considering that the working day starts early in Qatar, anywhere from 6a.m., it’s a long day to fast.
When I say, fast, I don’t mean ‘fast’ like the we do on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, making a meal of abstaining from meat but able to pig out on a fish box instead, I mean fasting, proper. No food, no water and no cigarettes. For the curious, sex is out also.
This year, being back in the workplace I was interested to see how it would affect life in the world outside of the house and admittedly I was a little excited, if you like, about the thought of witnessing such a great sacrifice. As a child I always had a fascination with lent and the idea of sacrificing the body to enhance the soul, saving up opal fruits and wham bars until Easter Sunday in the hope that by the age of 8 I would be made whole again. As an adult I always had a fantasy about going to Lough Derg for a weekend of black tea and walking barefoot around a mountain, however, when the babysitters were organised and it came to the time of reckoning these weekends usually transformed from a ‘finding myself’ mission to a ‘finding the perfect peep toe wedges’ mission in Mahon Point or a ‘finding my inner calm’ mission in the spa at the Maryborough. As the years passed I had become less and less of a good practising Catholic and I was hoping that this exposure to Ramadan might reignite my sense of self sacrifice, thus making me whole again by the age of 38, (fat chance, but worth a shot).
Whilst I myself am not a Muslim nor did I have the intention to fast for fourteen hours a day, Ramadan would have certain restrictive implications for me and my non-Muslim counterparts. Firstly there are no cafes, restaurants or food courts open until the evening time. It is not permitted to eat or drink in public, or even to drink from a bottle of water in the car. Supermarkets and shop operate special Ramadan hours, thus making every-day life in Qatar, in 50 degree heat, in the middle of the desert, even more difficult. However, I still welcomed the first day of Ramadan with a bright enthusiasm, I would show respect to the Muslim community by my abstinence and I would take this time, before I went back to Ireland with the intention of gorging myself on rasher sandwiches and taytos, to atone.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the general quiet the fell over Qatar, the roads were quiet, the school was quiet and like every other workplace in Qatar, were operating a core-hours day in respect of the holy month and associated fasters. At work I abstained my morning coffee at my desk, on our lunch-break we huddled into an empty cloakroom to eat our sandwiches out of view and again in respect of the fasters. We drove home in the peak midday heat without water and I couldn’t help but notice that there were a definite lack of Arabs around. If I had hoped to witness first hand sacrifice, I was disappointed. I thought I would see hordes of fasters trudging around, delirious with hunger and thirst but turns out that the Qataris actually turn their days into night and vice versa, by sleeping all day and dining all night!
So in fact my dutiful respect was going unnoticed and it wasn’t the Arabs that were showing most sacrifice during Ramadan, it was indeed me, and not alone was I proofing myself to be more devout than the average Qatari, I was proving myself to be a better Muslim than a Catholic!