Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed as a month of fasting. This year is our first experience with Ramadan in Kuwait. The start of Ramadan varies as it’s beginning is marked by the lunar cycle, like the rest of the Islamic holidays. I believe that the phase of the moon for each holiday can be different (ie new moon, full moon, etc); however, the beginning and end of Ramadan are based on visual sightings of the crescent moon.
This year, Ramadan is expected to begin on May 27th or 28th. We are leaving for Thailand on May 31st, so we will only be in Kuwait for 4-5 days of Ramadan this year. However, next year, Ramadan will begin at least 11 days earlier so we’ll experience much more of Ramadan.
Ramadan commemorates the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. According to Wikipedia, the Archangel Gabriel visited Muhammad in a cave near Mecca and revealed to him a verse from the Quran. The annual observance is considered one of the 5 Pillars of Islam.
Ramadan is observed by fasting from sunup until sundown (roughly 4:30 AM – 6:50 PM in Kuwait) for an entire month. Fasting includes not only food, but also water and anything that gives you pleasure – such as smoking. The elderly, the very young, the sick, and pregnant are exempt from fasting; however, if skipped it usually has to be made up at a later date. So, pregnancy during Ramadan only delays your fasting. Then, when you complete it later you’re doing it alone, instead of with the rest of your family.
Ramadan is a time of charity and good deeds. Any of these acts are believed to receive double the blessing if they are completed during this month of fasting. Many donate to charities or provide food to local mosques for the breaking of fast meal, or Iftar. This is done in remembrance of all those who go hungry throughout the year, not just during Ramadan.
After sunset, there is a large meal called iftar. A few hours after that, in Kuwait at least, there is a second meal called ghabka. Then, in the early morning before sunrise there is a last meal called suhoor. Just prior to the breaking of fast most families send food to their neighbors to add to their first meal.
During the day, traffic is expected to be very light as many sleep during the day because they stay up at night to enjoy meals with family and friends. However, during the 40 minutes prior to sunset traffic is at an all time high as people rush to get home to break their fast. We have received multiple warnings to make sure we are home well before sunset due to the traffic. All those rushing home have been fasting all day and accidents are very common. Many visit their friends and gather in large groups during the night. This leads to quite a lot of traffic during this time as well.
While non-Muslims are not expected to fast, it is an imprisonable offense to be seen eating, drinking water, or smoking in public during the fasting period. Muslims who are not participating in the fast due to illness, pregnancy, etc, also do not openly consume food and water.
With daily temperatures in Kuwait rising well above 100F and no water to drink, everyone stays indoors as much as possible. At most workplaces that employ non-Muslims, there are rooms available to eat and drink water. This may only be done behind closed doors and with the windows covered. I only work part-time so I am choosing to eat at home the 3 days I will be working.
At my clinic though, it’s not that easy for many of my coworkers. Because we treat many elderly patients in their homes, it’s not uncommon for some to spend their entire work day outside of the office. This means that they not only have nowhere to eat their lunch, but they also cannot have water in between clients as you cannot be seen in a car with food or water.
Some hotels will offer a private dining room for their non-Muslim guests or may only provide room-service during Ramadan. Extra conservative dress is also expected during the entire month. All restaurants and most malls will be closed during the day and many businesses operate on a reduced schedule. There will also be no food or drink service during the day at the airport, outside of the restricted lounges. Our flight out of Kuwait will be after sunset; however, depending on the airline, I would expect food and drink services to be suspended on many flights into and out of Kuwait during the day time hours.
While there will certainly be a few changes to our daily routines, Ramadan in Kuwait is definitely an interesting experience. There are obviously US holidays that most people observe regardless of religion, like the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and New Years. But there’s a very big difference when an entire country is observing something very uncomfortable for such a long time. That said, I can’t say I’m upset that our first Ramadan in Kuwait will be limited to 5 days or less!