Originally published on Wish You Were Here.
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and begins after the night that the crescent of the new moon is sighted. This can vary by a day or two amongst Muslim nations and this year Oman’s Moon Sighting Main Committee, led by Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Salmi the Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, announced that Ramadan in Oman would officially began on the 7th June.
Ramadan is a time to reflect and re-evaluate our lives. It’s the time to be mindful, work on our strengths, and overcome our weaknesses. The fast involves not only abstaining from food and drink, but also from sins like dishonesty, cruel words, pride, and over-indulgence – Times of Oman
On the 20th June children throughout Muscat celebrated Qaranqasho to mark the halfway point of Ramadan. Qaranqasho is an event similar to Halloween whereby children in traditional costumes visit their neighbours singing songs and receiving sweets as a gift. Qaranqasho began as a reward for children who had managed to fast for the first half of the month of Ramadan.
A specific song is sung on this occasion, “Qaranqashoyonas, atonishwayathalwa (O people, Qaranqasho time, give us some sweets please.” It further goes “doosdoos fi almandoos, hara hara fi a’sahara,” where they ask for candy – Times of Oman
I guess that face painting, games and a belly full of lollies is a great way to encourage the children to continue fasting for the second half of Ramadan 😉
Now that we are well past the halfway mark we through we would share with you some of the things we have learned so far about Ramadan etiquette for non-Muslims in Oman.
Do not eat, drink or smoke in public:
Fasting begins at Sehr, which is sunrise in Oman, and concludes with Iftar (the breaking of the fast) after sunset prayers. The Sehr o Iftar time scale roughly equates to a 4:00am beginning and a 7:00pm finish. During this time frame Omani Muslims are not permitted to eat, drink or smoke.
Non-Muslims are also not permitted not to eat, drink or smoke in public during fasting hours. This includes semi-public spaces such as motor vehicles. Sipping water or munching on a snack whilst driving is not entirely private and therefore it is against the Islamic faith, as is chewing gum in public.
Public observance of Ramadan is compulsory, however many Omanis are aware that non-Muslims have a different belief system to their own and may make allowances within the work place if their own beliefs are treated respectfully.
Ramadan brings shorter working hours. The working day is reduced to six hours and traveling business people need to be aware of this when organising their schedules. Lunch meetings should be avoided and conference rooms that supply tea and coffee facilities need to be carefully vetted.
The Ramadan road toll is very high. The rush to visit family at Iftar, combined with low blood sugar and dehydration from fasting, can lead to road fatalities, so try to avoid driving within an hour of sunset.
Although the shopping malls are open for business, cafes, restaurants and movie theatres are closed throughput the day. At night however they become a magnet for Omanis celebrating Iftar and are therefore crowded. Live music is prohibited so clubs and bars will be closed. Non-Muslims also need to be mindful of the sounds emanating from within their own domiciles. Parties involving loud music, drinking alcohol etc are acceptable so long as the sounds are contained within the premises and not allowed to be heard outside.
Revealing clothing, sheer clothing, too low, too short, too tight, are all items that should remain in your wardrobe. A Muslim Mosque, Buddhist Temple, Christian Cathedral etc, should all be treated with dignity and respect regardless of what your beliefs may be. Walking the streets of Oman during Ramadan is no different and respect costs little.
Public displays of affection:
No matter how romantic you and your partner find the amazing Muscat sunsets to be, snogging in public is a no-no. There will be plenty of time back in your apartment or hotel room for that 😉
Iftar is awesome:
Iftar is both a feast and a celebration with a strong focus on family and community. Perhaps the best way to describe Iftar to Christians is to imagine the daily fasting of Lent being concluded with Christmas dinner. Traditionally the celebration begins with a few dates to break the fast, washed down with Laban (a delicious yoghurt drink) and plenty of fruit. Then the feasting begins with shawarma, kofta, kibbeh, shish taouk, tender lamb, grilled meat and a vast array of delicious salads including fattoush, tabouleh and a Lebanese potato salad full of mint, lemon juice and olive oil. The Baba Ganoush has that delicate smoky flavour of slow-roasted Aubergine and the Hummous is as smooth as King Island triple cream.
The Arabic coffee, brewed for hours with a mix of ground coffee beans, cardamom, and various subtle spices, is both sweet and savoury at the same time. It is the perfect compliment to Umm Ali, a Middle East bread pudding we enjoyed for dessert.