Today is the start of Ramadan for all Muslims around the world. Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar marking a month of fasting and is one of the five pillars of Islam. The fast (no intake of food or liquids including water, abstention of sinful and sexual activities) must take place daily between sun rise and sunset and lasts between 29-30 days dependant on the sightings of the crescent moon. During this compulsory period of fasting, you are displaying self discipline, spiritual reflection, control and sacrifice allowing the person to cleanse and purify. Charity also pays a large part during this month, where practicing empathy and charitable actions (zakat) towards those less fortunate are paramount to the practice.
Living in a Muslim country the misconception of most people is that, if you are not a practicing Muslim then Ramadan , is of course something you know is going on, but has little impact on you if not taking part. This is not the case. Living in Kuwait I realise how important this month is, your expat cultural awareness skills kick in and you observe and respect the changes that come.
Working hours change: Due to Kuwait labour laws, schools and office hours are reduced during this time. Mainly due to the hash impact that fasting has on the body and energy levels, output is disminished and therefore shorter days assist the recover for those taking part.
Opening hours change: As no food or liquid can be consumed, coffee shops and restaurants close during the day. Therefore there is little to do during the day as the whole country becomes nocturnal.
Same rules apply. Whether a Muslim or not, you must abide by the same rules during the holy month. Eating or drinking in public is illegal during this time, even for non practicing expats. Unlike places like Dubai who can have cordoned off or screened areas in cafes during daylight hours, Kuwait has no places for discreet eating and drinking. This means no food or drink even in multi cultural offices, gyms are open but no water can be consumed to replenish during your workout, cars are also classed as a public place, so no drinking or smoking permitted. This puts restrictions on most daily activities, bringing daytime social life to a stand still.
Modesty. I respect the cultural differences all year round whilst living here and my attire is far more conservative as my home outfits. That being said during Ramadan I take extra care to be more aware of arm and leg coverage. This year bikinis are also been replaced by one piece swim suits as rules are put in place to avoid offense.
Driving. The roads are almost empty before 9am as the morning rush hour shifts 3 hours later. It is common knowledge that the roads are crazy busy around 3pm when offices are dismissed and you can easily double your travel time, which in the scorching heat is a challenge. Time to avoid the roads in towards sunset as people rush to Iftar to break fast and then onto mosque. As the month progresses driving becomes irratic and questionable as awareness is affected by the fast, think waky races on steroids.
Nocturnal life: As previously mentioned everything during the day comes to a stand still. Everyone’s routine and body clock is moved to the evening hours where the fast breaks and normal activity can resume. The beach clubs move all their classes from the day and replace them with a schedule that enables you to work out from 5pm – midnight, malls are open until 1am as shopping and eating habits adjust.
Even though you have to adjust your day, you see how important Ramadan is for the country and its people as their faith binds them together. The fact your day changing means little consequence in comparison and whilst we are living here, expats should respect and accept this cultural importance. Going out during the evenings you see how many families get together and they unify in their mutual belief and commitment. We have gone to restaurants during Iftar and there is a great atmosphere as large groups break the fast and hand out gifts of chocolate, baklava and dates. We even woke this morning to find a beautiful gift from our neighbours, who know we aren’t practicing but acknowledge that this is a important and respected time for everyone in the country.