Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Ramadan for Non-Muslims

Ramadan started last night; it means that the very thinnest of crescent moons was sighted by official astronomers, and the lunar month of Ramadan might begin. You might think it odd that people wait, with eager anticipation, for a month of daytime fasting, but the Muslims do – they wait for it eagerly.

A friend explained to me that it is a time of purification, when your prayers and supplications are doubly powerful, and when God takes extra consideration of the good that you do and the intentions of your heart. It is also a time when the devil cannot be present, so if you are tempted, it is coming from your own heart, and you battle against the temptations of your own heart. Forgiveness flows in this month, and blessings, too.

We have similar beliefs – think about it. Our holy people fast when asking a particular boon of God. We try to keep ourselves particularly holy at certain times of the year.

In Muslim countries, the state supports Ramadan, so things are a little different. Schools start later. Offices are open fewer hours. The two most dangerous times of the day are the times when schools dismiss and parents are picking up kids, and just before sunset, as everyone rushes to be home for the breaking of the fast, which occurs as the sun goes down. In olden days, there was a cannon that everyone in the town could hear, that signalled the end of the fast. There may still be a cannon today – in Doha there was, and we could hear it, but if there is a cannon in Kuwait, we are too far away, and can’t hear it.

When the fast is broken, traditionally after the evening prayer, you take two or three dates, and water or special milk drink, a meal which helps restore normal blood sugar levels and takes the edge off the fast. Shortly, you will eat a larger meal, full of special dishes eaten only during Ramadan. Families visit one another, and you will see maids carrying covered dishes to sisters houses and friends houses – everyone makes a lot of food, and shares it with one another. When we lived in Tunisia, we would get a food delivery maybe once a week – it is a holy thing to share, especially with the poor and we always wondered if we were being shared with as neighbors, or shared with as poor people! I always tried to watch what they particularly liked when they would visit me, so I could sent plates to their houses during Ramadan.

Just before the sun comes up, there is another meal, Suhoor, and for that meal, people usually eat something that will stick to your ribs, and drink extra water, because you will not eat again until the sun goes down. People who can, usually go back to bed after the Suhoor meal and morning prayers. People who can, sleep a lot during the day, during Ramadan. Especially as Ramadan moves into the hotter months, the fasting, especially from water, becomes a heavier responsibility.

And because it is a Muslim state, and to avoid burdening our brothers and sisters who are fasting, even non-Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, touching someone of the opposite sex in public, even your own husband (not having sex in the daytime is also a part of fasting), smoking is forbidden, and if you are in a car accident and you might be at fault, the person might say “I am fasting, I am fasting” which means they cannot argue with you because they are trying to maintain a purity of soul. Even chewing gum is an offense. And these offenses are punishable by a heavy fine – nearly $400 – or a stay in the local jail.

Because I am not Muslim, there may be other things of which I am not aware, and my local readers are welcome to help fill in here. As for me, I find it not such a burden; I like that there is a whole month with a focus on God. You get used to NOT drinking or eating in public during the day, it’s not that difficult. The traffic just before (sunset) Ftoor can be deadly, but during Ftoor, traffic lightens dramatically (as all the Muslims are breaking their fast) and you can get places very quickly! Stores have special foods, restaurants have special offerings, and the feeling in the air is a lot like Christmas. People are joyful!

September 13, 2007 - Posted by | Bureaucracy, Community, Cooking, Cross Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Ramadan, Social Issues, Spiritual

28 Comments »

  1. You can hear the cannon on Kuwait’s radio. They still use it to mark the break of fast ๐Ÿ™‚

    I marked my 1st Ramadan by coming to work late..VERY late as I do every year & I’m still half asleep hehe.

    Comment by ะฏ | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  2. omg The School Traffic ! it will kill me !

    Comment by "GreY" | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  3. That was a really good description. A couple more things:

    1) People make it a point to read the entire Quran during the month of Ramadan. The Quran has thirty parts so the idea is to try to finish one part for each day. Each part is about twenty pages so it’s not too hard.

    2) You will see WOMEN heading to the mosque after the last prayer of the day. During the year it’s usually only the men that go to the mosque. But during Ramadan there are extra prayers after the last compulsory prayer in the evening and those extra prayers are called Taraweeh.

    BTW there’s a LOT more traffic during the daytime. Also, it can be a bit dangerous on your way home after work because people are getting hungrier and hungrier and so they’re driving might have a bit more of a temper in it. ๐Ÿ˜€

    As for foreigners in Kuwait, I personally wouldn’t mind if someone ate in front of me, like for example the foreigners at work. I had to deal with that when I lived abroad and you get used to it. It’s only hard when the food has a strong smell because that really gets you hungrier! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Comment by 1001 Kuwaiti Nights | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  4. small corrections to last paragraph,

    ftoor is the act of breaking the fast at sunset, and suhoor is the act of having a meal prior to fasting, which can be anytime before one has to start fast for next day.

    Comment by purgatory | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  5. Thank you, Purgatory, and I hope I have corrected the last paragraph accurately, but any corrections or additions you can help me with, I am thankful for. Ramadan Mubarak.

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  6. I wrote a long comment but it doesn’t appear for some reason.

    Comment by 1001 Kuwaiti Nights | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  7. I happened to be here when your second comment came in, 1001, and I quickly found it in spam, I don’t know why, when none of your other comments go to spam. But here it is! I made a comment, too, response to R and Grey, and it didn’t show up either. Hmmmmmmmmmmm.. . .

    Thank you so much, these are great additions, every piece of information helps.

    And, I am sorry, I forgot to say Ramadan Mubarak!

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  8. ะฏ – I am so glad ya’ll were late today! I got all my errands run while you were sleeping in. And everyone was falling all over themselves to be KIND today. What a great day!

    Grey – I try not to have to be in traffic during peak hours, but if you have to be, oh, you have my sincere condolences. It is MURDER. And in every culture, isn’t it ironic, the holiest of months brings out the devil in us when we are driving?

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  9. I really like the way you wrote about this ๐Ÿ™‚

    *gasp* I didn’t know chewing gum during a fast was a legally punishable offence! I knew it broke the fast but a legal penalty, I had no idea!

    Comment by Toobaa | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  10. Thank you, Toobaa. I have not seen the chewing gum thing in writing, but I have been told – be especially conservative in clothing, no food and no drink in public, and no touching, no smoking, no gum.

    As for things that break the fast – I have heard all kinds of things, and then I have heard all kinds of arguements against the things. Like Perfume. Like Swimming. Like your own saliva.

    When you read the Qur’an, you get the impression that the fasting was fairly simple, and it is supposed to be that way, and nothing to excess, stay focused on God and the word of God, but some of the ideas I hear lately seem to go beyond what the Qur’an says. What do you think?

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  11. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

    Comment by Baraka | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  12. Because I am not Muslim, there may be other things of which I am not aware, and my local readers are welcome to help fill in here. As for me, I find it not such a burden; I like that there is a whole month with a focus on God. You get used to NOT drinking or eating in public during the day, itโ€™s not that difficult.

    Nice to know there’s still somebody like you, buddy. I’m a moslem and I’m glad to read your post.
    However, don’t push yourself if you find it hard to understand. You may still eat or drink whenever and whereever you want. That’s your rights ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Comment by alex | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  13. […] first day of Ramadan, and I think of that wry reply.ย  And here’s a blog, from a non-Muslim, American expat living in Kuwait, writing about Ramadan today.ย  I likeย her observational, non-judgmental tone, her gentle sense of […]

    Pingback by Ramadan « I Am the Lizard Queen! | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  14. Thank you for your visit, Baraka, and for your inclusion in your blog, Lizard Queen. And Alex – I try to fast, but if I can’t, I hide away and try not to make things harder on those who are fasting.

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  15. I try to fast, but if I canโ€™t, I hide away and try not to make things harder on those who are fasting.

    No doubt about it. That’s why I give you my respect.
    Faith freedom, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Comment by alex | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  16. You are right, Alex, it is all about respect.

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 14, 2007 | Reply

  17. Hehe, the saliva thing is something I remember we would tease one another with as kids… ‘Ummm! You’re not allowed to swallow if you’re fasting!’
    I’ve never heard adults suggesting such a thing! ๐Ÿ˜€
    Anyway, love the vibe of your blog. I’ll keep visiting ๐Ÿ™‚

    Comment by toobaa | September 14, 2007 | Reply

  18. I often see people spitting on the streets, Toobaa, and I imagine it is so they don’t have to swallow. But they are all men, I never see a woman spit!

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 14, 2007 | Reply

  19. Intlxpatr,

    thank you. For the way this blog was written, and for understanding ๐Ÿ™‚

    I smiled when I read what you wrote about waiting for Ramadhan “with eager anticipation” because not only do I wait for it eagerly, I wish it passes by slower. These days, Ramadhan seems to go by very quickly than I used to remember it doing. Maybe it is because I am older.

    I am a Singaporean Muslim and have many non Muslim Friends. My friends do what you do too, even though they don’t have to ๐Ÿ™‚ I make it a point to break my fast at least once in the month with my non-Muslim friends and sometimes they do a mock fast too, because they know how much food there will be at sunset.

    Similarly, when my Catholic friends go vegetarian on Fridays, I would not eat meat in front of them if I choose to lunch with them.

    With regards to your comment: “When you read the Qurโ€™an, you get the impression that the fasting was fairly simple, and it is supposed to be that way, and nothing to excess, stay focused on God and the word of God,” … sometimes the simplest process can get a bit more complicated because it leaves room for interpretation. I am by no means a pious Muslim but the basic rules are:
    1. No insertions through the 5 anatomical openings
    2. Abstinence from anything that will sway a person (body and mind) from the focus from God. So listening to music for example – if music plays in the background and a person isn’t bothered by it and still can maintain focus on prayer then it is allowed but if by playing a simple piece of music make a person daydream about other things than God then, they can’t … so a lot of Do’s and Don’ts very much depend on what effect it has on a person. Provided it obeys rule 1.

    I guess the same goes for perfume (though I have not heard about this one).

    Swimming is usually not done because you cannot guarantee that you don’t end up swallowing a bit of the water, or having some of it go in your ears and nose. If you can swim with your head above the water at all times then it should be permissable. There is of course the issue of modesty in swimming attire.

    The saliva issue … there are different ways to view this but as Rule 1 says a fasting person cannot insert anything through the anatomical openings, and technically the saliva is made within the mouth, one can argue that swallowing saliva is permissable. Most of the time you don’t even notice yourself swallowing saliva anyway. However, if a person intentionally (sorry if this sounds a bit gross) “collects” and then swallows to relieve the dryness in their throat then it becomes an intentional act rather than an automatic body response. This might be the bit that cast doubts on whether the fast is then preserved. I am sure the guys you see spitting don’t do it every single second … It is when they have too much… (maybe after watching a good cooking show :p)

    We are expected to feel the effect of the fast, so while the state might allow certain changes in routine to facilitate the fast, technically, a person cannot sleep the whole day either. The benefit of the fast is in feeling the hunger and appreciating what it is like to not have things in abundance. So work still has to continue.

    ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for allowing me to share this.

    Comment by nadahati | September 15, 2007 | Reply

  20. You are so kind, nadahati, for taking your time and giving us so much more information. This blog entry has taken on a life of it’s own – it’s been picked up and sent a lot of different places, so you are not just helping to educate me, you are sharing your Ramadan experience with a lot of people who have little knowledge and a lot of curiousity about Ramadan. Thank YOU!

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 15, 2007 | Reply

  21. Can I ask though – how did you get this picked up and into google news?

    Very impressive that this blog is syndicated through Google and is it something that is just up to Google or you actively created?

    Obviously this is a popular blog with great data so well done on your seo success..

    The swimming greats you should write about next, my ex was an olympic swimmer!

    Comment by Weapons: Bos | July 24, 2008 | Reply

  22. […] There were many comments on the original post, and, as usual in the history of Here There and Everywhere, the commenters taught us all more about Ramadan than the original post. If you want to read the original post and comments, you can click HERE. […]

    Pingback by Ramadan for Non Muslims « Here There and Everywhere | August 30, 2008 | Reply

  23. […] First Ramadan for Non Muslims + comments […]

    Pingback by Ramadan For Non Muslims « Here There and Everywhere | August 21, 2009 | Reply

  24. […] There were many comments on the original post, and, as usual in the history of Here There and Everywhere, the commenters taught us all more about Ramadan than the original post. If you want to read the original post and comments, you can click HERE. […]

    Pingback by Ramadan for Non Muslims – 2010 « Here There and Everywhere | August 10, 2010 | Reply

  25. […] as is my annual tradition, I will reprint an article I wrote in September 2007, Ramadan for Non Muslims. Even better, go back to the original Ramadan for Non Muslims and read the comments – […]

    Pingback by Ramadan for Non-Muslims 2011 « Here There and Everywhere | July 21, 2011 | Reply

  26. […] Ramadan than the original post. If you want to read the original post and comments, you can click HERE. Share this:ShareDiggEmailTwitterRedditPrintStumbleUponFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

    Pingback by Ramadan for Non Muslims; An Annual Tradition « Here There and Everywhere | July 18, 2012 | Reply

  27. […] first year blogging, I wrote a post which has become one of my all time statistical highlights, Ramadan for Non-Muslims. It was a rich time for blogging in Kuwait, lots of interchange of ideas. If you want to know more […]

    Pingback by Ramadan in Kuwait Starts July 9 « Here There and Everywhere | June 12, 2013 | Reply

  28. […] There were many comments on the original post, and, as usual in the history of Here There and Everywhere, the commenters taught us all more about Ramadan than the original post. If you want to read the original post and comments, you can click HERE. […]

    Pingback by Ramadan Kareem and Ramadan for Non-Muslims « Here There and Everywhere | June 28, 2014 | Reply


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: