Tonight marks the last night of Ramadan, with tomorrow having officially been declared the first day of Eid al-Fitr in Qatar (since Eid is declared on the sighting of the crescent moon, the first day of Eid may come later in the East).
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting from dawn until sunset. This fast involves not only refraining from consuming food, but also from drinking liquids, smoking and intimacy during sunlight hours.
Ramadan rolls around approximately 10 days earlier each year according to the Gregorian (Western) calendar. For example, when we moved to Qatar in 2006, Ramadan started on September 23. This year, 2013, it began on July 8. Next year it will start the last week of June, and so on.
While there's more to Ramadan than just fasting (it is meant to be a month of intensified reflection, prayer and charity), the absolute daylight fast is what most intrigues me as a Christian Westerner, as there are so many considerations, particularly when Ramadan occurs in the summer months.
For example, if you were a Muslim living in Amadjuak, Nunavut (there are about 100 Muslims living in the Northern Canadian territory), sunset was at about 11 p.m. on the first day of Ramadan this year, and sunrise at about 2:00 a.m. This would have left you with about 3 nighttime hours within which to pray, eat, and hydrate yourself ... during the remaining 21 hours, non-fasting peeps around you would be eating, drinking, smoking and carrying on as usual as you abstained ... an almost unfathomable challenge.
In Qatar, sunrise and sunset don't vary much throughout the year; all restaurants and many shops close until sunset during Ramadan; eating, smoking and drinking in public are forbidden during daylight hours; and life in general takes on a much slower pace, so temptation may be lessened on those fronts. However, summer daylight hours bring temperatures of close to 50C, and humidity levels sometimes surpass 70%. While this may not affect those who have the freedom of sleeping through much of the day and staying up late at night (basically inverting day and night), the perils of fasting in July in the ME can be overwhelming for laborers who are toiling through the daylight hours.
Cases of heat stress increase, the consequences of which can be deadly. It's not uncommon to have people collapse and be hospitalized. Fasting is more than a test of one's will, it is a test of physical endurance that can easily be lost.
As I stopped to gas up on my way home yesterday, I was acutely reminded of the challenges faced by many fellow residents in this country during summertime Ramadan. The picture explains it better than I ever could.
I'm thinking the gas attendants may be celebrating the first day of Eid with a coffee and a doughnut about mid-afternoon tomorrow.