Sunday, 7 July 2013

Sighting the Ramadan Crescent Moon

Monday evening all eyes will be on the Saudi sky - well, Muslim eyes anyway, attempting to spot the crescent moon signifying the start of Ramadan.

We were talking last night about the need to sight the moon when, after centuries of astrological study and using latest technology, it should be possible to pinpoint exactly when the moon in its crescent form will appear over the horizon after the sun has set.

But the moon must be sighted.
Actually seen.
Not imagined behind a cloud.
Whether by the naked eye or through binoculars (I have no idea if binoculars were around in the early Islamic days, though it is perfectly acceptable to use them now).

The latest weather forecast is a bit of a worry though.  Dust storms for the next three days might make spotting anything in the sky a bit difficult.

Hubster and I will be staying in Riyadh for most of Ramadan.  Many expats choose to leave the country when Ramadan is imminent.  Granted, it can be tough for non-Muslims who remain here as we're expected to be respectful of the Holy Month and implement a number of changes to the our daily routines and behaviors so as not to offend.

To be honest, the only thing that is really challenging for this non-Muslim is remembering not to eat or drink anything, not even water, when out in public during daylight hours.  Not that there is any reason to be out and about during the day - almost everything is closed or on an extreme go slow.  It's common knowledge among expats to get all your visa applications lodged, and returned, long before Ramadan.  Official working hours for the Public Sector this year are 10 a.m til 3 p.m, though in reality everybody considers those hours a guideline only.

As expats need to be mindful of their actions even in the workplace, Hubster usually takes a packed lunch to work and eats discreetly behind closed doors.  Restaurants are closed during the day, though supermarkets open for a few daylight hours so families can get the shopping done in preparation for the long awaited evening meal.

The first Ramadan I was here our compound cafe closed out of respect, the sign taped to the door said, for Ramadan.  It didn't really bother me, I have a Nespresso at home.  The other non-Muslims, however, weren't very impressed.  After all, they said, we live in this space to deliberately separate ourselves from the 'craziness' outside these walls.  So, ever since, our cafe has been open during Ramadan and I admit to going there, though mostly to use the free WiFi.

Private Sector companies, if they can, change their operating hours completely.  Nighttime simply becomes daytime.  For example, at the ladies gym down the road the Ramadan hours are 9 p.m. - 2 a.m.  I have no idea who actually goes to the gym at those hours.  I certainly don't!  (Most gyms with annual subscriptions offer one month free, with Ramadan in mind).  

Riyadh city comes alive in the evening after Iftar when families are together, gifts are exchanged, prayers are said and the fast is broken.  And the food....Most hotels put on huge Iftar feasts every night for an entire month and if you want to go, it pays to book!
All Malls open after Iftar too and, if you go up to the Globe in Faisaliah or the Sky Bridge in Al Mamlaka Tower, you can watch the constant, unbroken chain of headlights backed up on every road into town as people emerge from their homes to enjoy the night life of Riyadh, such that it is.  

Mosques also ramp up their activity during Ramadan as the faithful gather to hear Imams read the Quran in its entirety over the course of the month.  

If you're a Muslim, no doubt Saudi Arabia during Ramadan is a great place to be.  In fact, the non-Saudi Muslims I know love being in Saudi for Ramadan, not because they are particularly pious, but because Saudi has shorter daylight hours so they aren't fasting as long as Muslims in say, the UK.  Plus the entire country stops for Ramadan which is extremely supportive, as opposed to other countries who couldn't give two hoots about your fasting, or the temptation to eat that is everywhere, and where forgiveness for your exhaustion and crankiness due to hunger is unlikely to be forthcoming.  

Signs for Ramadan started appearing about town a couple of weeks ago.  This one at Tamimi was one of the first.  No doubt, when that crescent moon makes its appearance on the Saudi horizon many a Ramadan Kareem will be said.

Ka Kite,

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