Ramadan is month when everyone fasts from sun rise to sundown. We fast from food, water and sex. This deprivation is supposed to make Muslims stop and think about those less fortunate and life in general. Muslims are also supposed to focus on their religious and spiritual wellbeing throughout the month. I cannot deny that it does work for many Muslims, but there are others that have turned it to a commercial holiday. Starting a week before Ramadan, people start congratulating each other on seeing another Ramadan. And there’s a whole lot of shopping and preparation that goes into it. Special Ramadan recipes are dug out and Ramadan themed social events are set up. It can be really fun for people with time-off from work. But people like yours truly and millions of other Saudis still have to go to work and that is tough on an Islamic vampire day schedule.
During Ramadan everything is turned upside down. Government offices are open for only six hours. Everything slows down from the already slow pace it usually moves at. Except of course the traffic. It gets really crazy. Sleep and caffeine deprived drivers in the morning and starving and dehydrated drivers in the afternoon do not make safe roads. I know nothing about the statistics but I bet that car accident numbers increase in Ramadan.
What I especially love about Ramadan is its effect on the younger generation. They get one degree more religious then they usually are the rest of the year. If you have a teenager or young adult who listens to music, chats, misses a prayer now and then and has a cell phone significant other, during Ramadan they’ll stop listening to music, pray more carefully and ditch the phone buddy. Chat however will resume after a 24 hour attempt at stopping. And MTV Arabia has tapped into this annual trend. That is why it is not broadcasting any music videos for the whole month! Instead they show programs like Cribs and reality shows. This decision has really won hearts here.
Also around Ramadan you get public message type of commercials that are really well produced. They are about being a good Muslim. The first one I remember was about how the five prayers are your stress free sanctuary during the day. The latest is about a young man who gets an urgent call while apparently fasting during Ramadan. He breaks his fast eating a banana while rushing in his car to the hospital. When he gets there it turns out he was needed for an emergency blood transfusion. And the teary eyed mother of the patient who needed the blood thanks the young man profusely. So he was actually doing his duty. I wonder who’s paying for them. When the first one was broadcast there were a lot of rumors that a prominent direct grandson of the founder of Saudi Arabia was, but I have not come across anything official confirming that.
One thing that Ramadan is really about is free food. And the poorer you are the fatter you get. Mosques, charities and even individuals fall over each other setting up tents with tons of free hot and cold meals for anyone who’ll show up, Muslim or not. The majority of people who frequent these tents in Ramadan are expatriate manual laborers and drivers. As well as half an hour before sunset, at all the main stoplights you’ll find volunteers passing out little snack boxes to break the fast with. People offer free food during Ramadan because in Islam it says that when a Muslim breaks his fast on your food then that Muslim’s fast counts as both your own and his. Its kind of like getting extra points.
The last thing I’m going mention about Ramadan is the Taraweeh prayer. This prayer is performed en masse only during Ramadan. It is right after the last prayer of the day (Isha) and it’s about three to four times longer than usual prayers. To get the best experience you are supposed to pick a favourite mosque and stick with it from the night before the 1st of Ramadan until the night before the last of Ramadan. That way you’ll have covered the whole Quran. Taraweeh, by the way, is the only prayer that women are encouraged to attend in the mosque rather than pray at home.