Whether you are a Muslim or not the month of Ramadan is an important event in the Middle East. Culturally there is much to be learnt from expats and visitors to Qatar and the gulf region.
Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, because it is the month that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed. Fasting ia an important element of this month, with Muslims required to abstain from eating or drinking from dawn until sunset.
For information about Iftar and Suhoor (Suhour) options check out Ramadan in Doha 2016 Guide – Iftar, Suhoor & Ramadan Tents
For details about Restaurant (non-hotel) Ramadan dining check out Ramadan in Doha 2016: Non-Hotel Restaurant Iftars & Suhoors
When is Ramadan in Doha 2016?
The Muslim Calendar is a lunar calendar and as such it is difficult to set dates for the start of Ramadan. However, in 2016 Ramadan is expected to start in June 6th in Doha Qatar, with the Eid Al’ Fitr festival expected to be on July 7th 2016. The Eid festival lasts for three days and is celebrated at events across the country.
Please note though that these dates are dependent on the sighing of the new moon and so there cannot be any certainty until nearer the time. However, official announcements are made closer to the time.
All adult Muslims are required to fast for 30 days. Most Muslims will be fasting, although there are exceptions for certain individuals including new mothers and the infirm.
What happens on a typical day in Ramadan?
Muslims wake up at before dawn for suhoor (sometimes spelt as sohour) which is the pre-dawn meal. They pray the morning prayers before sunrise. They will then fast for the whole day with a focus on their behaviour and actions towards others. This is because good deeds and kindness is rewarded in the month of Ramadan.
In Qatar the Ramadan 2016 fasts are expected to last approximately 15 hours. At sunset the fast is broken with dates and an Iftar meal. This is usually quite light so that the hour-long evening Tarawee prayers can be prayed comfortably. Muslims also increase their general Emaan (faith) by reading more Quran, attending lectures and learning more about their religion.
Ramadan Tents and Buffet Feasts are legendary across the Middle East. However, it is important to note that these are local F&B and Hotel offerings and don’t reflect the Ramadan meal and experience within people’s homes. For Muslims Iftar is an opportunity to spend more time with family, whilst Suhoor is much calmer affair. Ramadan meals are a sharing experience rather than a celebration of food itself.
Celebrating Ramadan in Doha
Ramadan is an exciting time for those living in a Muslim country because there is an air of celebration and festivity. Ramadan is a time of celebration – families and friends share Iftar evening meals to break their fast. Non-Muslims neighbours are also included in the celebrations.
Charity is an important element of the Islamic faith, with deeds multiplied in the month of Ramadan. This encourages Muslims to focus on good deeds and sharing with the community.
In Doha everyone gets involved in the act of feeding others regardless of religion. Local charities and private individuals host Iftar tents to provide labourers and those in need with food to break their fasts. Members of the expat community also make Iftar food packs to distribute snacks and supplies to labourers.
For children it is an exciting time – there is food, family and festivities. In Qatar there are particular cultural traditions that provide endless entertainment to families, including the Corniche car parade. There will be Ramadan events in many of the public venues and local malls in Qatar. Expect events at Aspire Zone, The Pearl-Qatar, and Katara Cultural Village – details will be released closer to Ramadan.
The Ramadan Cannon is ceremoniously fired at sunset to mark the end of the fast. Historically a real cannon was fired so that all who heard the noise would know the long fasting day had come to an end. Expats and locals alike can see the cannon being fired at the national Wahhab Mosque, and in the Old Airport area. The occasion has turned into a festive event with army officials giving out treats to the younger children.
The children festival of Garangao occurs in the middle of Ramadan. It is a uniquely Qatari tradition where local children dress up in brightly coloured traditional clothing, and head out into the neighbourhood singing the Garangao song and receiving nuts and sweets from elders. It has become a bigger event with local and expat children taking part in festivities across Doha and Qatar.
Local hotels also get involved with elaborately designed Ramadan Tents for Iftar and Suhoor Buffets. These showcase a variety of cuisines and live cooking stations. They are similar to Friday Brunches, however there is a greater focus on regional dishes and entertainment.
We also want to emphasise that the month is a spiritual time with a focus on fasting, charity, and good deeds. That’s why the feasting after the long hours of fasting can be confusing for many expats – but as mentioned this is not reflective of the individual, but is rather a cultural and entertainment option.
We always advise you should never eat excessively (especially at the buffets) – it is not good for your health. We would also suggest to the fasting person to be careful to avoid too much oily or sugary foods as this can cause health issues. And if you have diabetes then you should always follow the guidance and advice of your medical practitioner.
7 Tips To Surving Ramadan in Doha For Non-Muslims
1. In Qatar Ramadan is a vital part of society and community life, as such the legal working hours are shortened to about 5 or 6 hours. The opening times for local banks, government offices and medical services will be amended. Work hours are reduced and workplaces shut in the early afternoon, and open again in the late evening. This will have an impact upon services, including banks, government offices, medical services, and restaurants. Bear in mind the reduced operating hours – you are advised to check opening times before heading out.
2. In Qatar it is actually ILLEGAL to publicly consume food and drink – this includes chewing gum. This law applies to everyone, including Muslims who are not fasting. At most workplaces arrangements can be made for employees who are not fasting. QDC will close before Ramadan (last day is 5th June) and the sale of alcoholic beverages is stopped. The majority of restaurants and cafes close during the day and open before or after Iftar (sunset). However, there are daytime dining options and delivery options too.
3. Due to the physical difficulties of fasting many employees slow down their work output, which may be a nuisance to non-fasting colleagues and members of the public. Whilst we suggest you respect the fasting person who hasn’t had anything to drink or eat in hours, we also suggest you try and get important things done before Ramadan begins.
4. If you thought Doha traffic was crazy already, then wait until Ramadan begins. It is recommended that you avoid making unnecessary journeys in the evening. The roads are busy from an hour before sunset, and around 8.00pm when residents will be making their way to their local mosque to pray the evening prayers. And, unfortunately, the month of Ramadan doesn’t mean the roads are any safer – keep an eye out for fatigued drivers and the usual inconsiderate ‘crazies’.
5. During the hours of fasting many of your usual restaurants and eateries will be closed so make sure you bear that in mind should you wish to eat at to order from your usual place. Daytime lunch options will still be available and some cafes and restaurants may provide delivery options. If you plan to attend popular Ramadan Buffets then be sure to book in advance, as popular venues get booked out quickly. Be aware that QDC closes before Ramadan and during the month of Ramadan there will be no alcohol at hotel restaurants.
6. Ramadan is currently in the hotter months of the year, and there is not much to do during the day as many places are closed in the afternoon. You can keep your children busy with creative Ramadan-themed crafts. Introduce them to the local cultural celebrations such as Garangao. Get them involved by making Ramadan Kareem cards to hand out to neighbours and friends when Ramadan begins. Teach them about charity and prepare small snack packs and toiletry care packages to hand out to those in need. Keep an eye out for local events including those organised by government organisations and the malls. One local mall (Hyatt Plaza) arranges an annual Fast-A-Thon for non-Muslims, and they give money to charity for every fasting individual. It is a great way to raise money for charity and understand what fasting is like.
7. Finally, and most importantly, enjoy the rich cultural experience. Don’t get exasperated about the illogical stuff, the misunderstandings and the oddities of the region. If you have questions Ramadan is the time to politely ask co-workers, neighbours and friends about their religion or their culture. Ramadan is the time to enjoy a shared spirit of community celebration. And, most importantly, Ramadan is the time that both expats and locals can learn from each other.
Enjoy Ramadan in Qatar 2016 – give it a chance, you may just surprise yourself!
Pic Credit: Katara Cultural Village