Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Ramadan for Non Muslims – 2010

I miss the hustle and bustle of almost-Ramadan, the way the stores stock up with luxuries and delicacies not found through the rest of the year, the eager anticipation with which my friends anticipate the month of fasting, re-commitment, and gathering with friends and families with a month of specialty dishes.

Welcome Ramadan, which starts tomorrow. I am going to reprint here one of my all-time favorite articles. I wrote this originally in 2007 to help educate my western friends in some of the details related to Ramadan – and if you find that this interests you, you will want to go back to the 2007 entry and read the related comments, which are way more informative than my original article. 🙂

Ramadan for Non Muslims 2007

I am repeating this post from September 13, 2007 because it found so much interest among my non-Muslim friends. We are all so ignorant of one another’s customs, why we do what we do and why we believe what we believe. There is a blessing that comes with learning more about one another – that blessing, for me, is that when I learn about other, my own life is illuminated.


(I didn’t take this photo; it is from TourEgypt.net. If you want to see an astonishing variety of Ramadan lanterns/ fanous, Google “Image Ramadan lanterns” and you will find pages of them! I didn’t want to lift someone else’s photo from Flicker or Picasa (although people do that to me all the time!) but the variety is amazing.)

Ramadan will start soon; 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!

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.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | Events, ExPat Life, Holiday, Ramadan | 2 Comments

88% of Employed Qataris Work In Qatar Government Sector

The problem is creation of an attractive business environment . . . what would that require? Graft free bureaucracies? Transparent governments? Elimination of wasta/nepotism/cronyism?

Figures like this, with no reversal, can sink a government and bankrupt a country. As populations increase, the government has obligations to pay pensions, health care and salaries to citizens, which grow exponentially.

Public sector top employer of Qataris

Qatar has 88% of its employed nationals working for the public sector, even as the Gulf economies face twin challenges of creating adequate jobs for their nationals and the possibility of government budgets slipping into sizeable deficit, according to IBQ.

The UAE had 85% of its employed nationals in state service, followed by Kuwait (82%), Saudi Arabia (50%) and Bahrain (30%).

“Clearly, the ability of the public sector to absorb new entrants into the labour force will be increasingly limited in the future,” said the IBQ report.

Apprehending that deficits would be the future challenge for the GCC countries, it said the rising trend of public spending “is likely to limit government’s capacity and willingness to respond to economic difficulties in the future and increase the possibility of budgets falling into deficit if oil prices decline.”

The most recent oil boom that started in early 2003 and lasted for five consecutive years lured Gulf governments to expand public spending at unprecedented pace. “Annual growth in spending average 16% over the last five years and is expected to expand by a further 12% in 2010,” it added.

These two challenges, according to IBQ, could be addressed by paving the way for the private sector to play a larger role in the economy, for which the government should introduce policies that make it easier for the private sector to do business and remove unnecessary impediments.

It said the GCC economies have managed to escape the fallout of the global economic and financial crisis at a relatively low cost, partly due to their strong financial positions that enabled the adoption of stimulus packages to support economic growth.

Undoubtedly, the recent crisis has demonstrated the importance of local fiscal policies and direct government intervention in countering cyclical downturns in the short run, IBQ said.

“But other than providing temporary support, fiscal policies should not be viewed as a substitute for enhancing the competitive and fundamentals of domestic economies. As such, supporting the resilience of the regional economies in the face of anticipated future shocks should be prioritised,” it said.

Unfortunately and despite the availability of ample resources, the progress of Gulf economies in achieving their visions and strategic objectives is moving very slowly, especially those pertaining to the reduction of the region’s heavy dependence on the hydrocarbon sector through economic diversification.

“Experience shows that the achievement of these targets requires the creation of attractive business environment, which has yet to materialise throughout the region,” it added.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | Financial Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Qatar, Values, Work Related Issues | 2 Comments