Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ramadan . . . the finale.

So I am leaving for Canada. While Ramadan is 29-30 days for me it’s ending after 16. Fasting was challenging, but not as hard as I thought it would be. You really do get used to it, just like my Muslim friends said. And it was nice to set my time more like the rest of Qatar, enjoy the late-night festivities, and to have iftar with my friends. Here’s some pictures to recap:

a typical Sohour meal (if you look closely you can read the type of dates from the package.

Iftar at the Cigale hotel

An iranian restaurant in the Souq

The lecture of Dr. Zakir Naik

Iftar at an Iraqi restaurant

The "Jetsons" mosque where I witnessed the evening prayer

Chillin out with a shisha at the W Hotel

And iftar at a Syrian restaurant.

It was a cool expereince.

I'll try to post from Canada while I'm there. See you soon.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ramadan continued...

So a few days ago I met some friends at a Syrian restaurant for Iftar. We chose this restaurant specifically because it was close to a particular mosque. This one. I always liked the design of this mosque and refer to it as “The Jetson mosque” because its architecture reminds me somewhat of that old cartoon.

The mosque has an English-speaking imam by the name of Bilal Philips and is one of two mosques where lectures are given in English (the other one being the Islamic cultural Center, where I went for Friday prayers a few months back). We weren't sure when talks are normally given so we guessed that there would be one after the Isha prayer [I may have the name of this prayer wrong] around 8pm. So after dinner an Egyptian friend and I went to the mosque. We got there a little bit early so we sat down on the carpet and read the Qur’an until it was time for the prayer. The mosque had a number of Qur’ans available in various languages so I was able to grab an English copy and continue reading where I left off at home.

As an aside, Bilal Philips is a Canadian who converted to Islam sometime in the 70s, and much like Dr. Zakir Naik, is also banned from the UK and probably a couple of other countries as well. Again, I haven't had time to look up exactly what's going on there, but a couple years back I did attend one of his talks on the Hajj pilgrimage (search my blog for “Hajj” and you'll find it) and I recall that he was critical of Muslims who have musical ring tones on their cell phones. I guess he comes from a school of Islam that considers music something best avoided. The feeling is not that uncommon, one of my Qatari friends is likewise the same about music and does not listen to it (but most do).

My friend asked one of the people working at the mosque if there was going to be a speech and unfortunately we found out that the speech was at 6pm, around Iftar, so we had missed it. We hung around for a while longer though so that my friend could do the Isha prayer. After about 15 minutes prayer time was called so I grabbed the Qur’an I was reading and went to the back so as not to disturb anyone. The prayer started and more people kept coming into the mosque -- when one saw I was reading the Qur’an on the floor he grabbed a lectern and gave it to me so that I could put the book on it. Oops, sorry about that. Guess you shouldn't read the Qur’an on the floor if there are lecterns nearby.

Anyway the prayer was finished and my friend and I left. Unfortunately I don't have any more time this Ramadan to attend one of the talks, maybe next year.

As for the fasting it is still going fine. I will confess to one slip, one morning I got up for work and was absolutely parched, which did not bode well since the day had just begun. I didn't want to spend the day with a headache from dehydration or something so I had a glass of water before going to the office. Only happened once though.

Happy Birthday Karis!

As I've been out at these iftars and so forth I did not have time to wish my niece a Happy Birthday on my blog, something I’ve always done. I'm really sorry about that, and I realize I'm a few days late. The good news is I'm going to Canada in a few days so I will be able to see her. She’ll get an extra hug when I'm there.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ramadan updates

I wound up having to change my Sohour meal. Here's what I was having before:

I was eating dates, dried fruit and some sweetened cereal. The dried fruit seems to be coated in sugar so the meal just wound up being way too sweet. Everything was sweet or had sugar on it. Not what I wanted to eat at 3am.

So I switched it up a bit:

This has been working out better, something solid to go with the dates. Nuts, cheese, and a bit of bread (not shown). Settles a bit better in the stomach.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dr. Zakir Naik

I forgot to mention that Dr. Zakir Naik has gotten himself into a bit of trouble lately and has been refused entry into the UK. I don't recall the entire story but it has to do with some things that he said at the meeting that implies supporting extremists etc. etc.

Dr Zakir has numerous videos on YouTube (including the recent speech that he gave in Doha) including ones refuting the UK allegations. Just do a search for “Zakir Naik”. The UK ban was only a few weeks ago so a Google search for his name should turn up some UK newspaper articles. I can see why he has talks about Western media.

Supporter of extremism or someone quoted out of context? You be the judge.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ramadan, Day 9

Sorry for the breakdown in posting btw, I had a computer malfunction that took a few days to sort out.

I can now see why despite the fasting a lot of people actually gain weight during Ramadan. Traditionally you should break the fast with friends or family so of course I have been doing so for most days. That means big meals in restaurants and buffets at hotels. Almost every night I'm going out to eat somewhere with people, and next week I have three different hotel buffets I'm attending as part of invitations from the office and firms that I work with. Today it was a buffet at a Japanese restaurant with great sushi. Earlier today some of my Muslim friends found that a little odd, "You shouldn't have sushi for Iftar!”. Why not? I realize that perhaps sushi isn't exactly “traditional” but I had Indian food on two other nights, and the three Muslims that I attended dinner with, a Kuwaiti, two Lebanese, and a Turk, didn't seem to mind either. (Sounds like there's a joke in there somewhere: a Kuwaiti, a Lebanese, a Turk and a Canadian walk into a sushi bar... ). The restaurant appeared to be full of Muslims, including a Qatari couple. I did break the fast initially with dates and laban though, supplied by the restaurant. Looks like all restaurants have dates at the ready for the commencement of Iftar.

I also learned from one of my Qatari friends that when breaking the fast you should eat an odd number of dates. Many Hadiths appear to mention that the Prophet Mohammed ate at least three dates and always an odd number. I will check my Al-Bukhari Hadiths to see if there is anything in it about how many dates to eat. (No luck finding Sawiq by the way, it appears no one breaks their fast with that.)

Another Ramadan tradition is that you should read (or have read to you) the entire Qur’an during the holy month. Many mosques have a special reading every night where the Qur’an is divided up into 29 sections and a section recited each evening -- by attending the readings each night you will have heard the entire Qur’an recited. While most read it on their own one has to remember that, not so long ago, illiteracy was high so you would have to listen to a recitation. One of my Qatari friends mentioned that his Grandmother was illiterate so listened to audio CDs of the Qur’an.

I'm getting used to the fasting now so in addition to the fasting I’ve decided to spend 30 to 45 minutes reading the Qur’an everyday. That is not enough time to get through the entire book but it gives me an opportunity to have a bit of a refresher from when I last read it about three years ago. I recently found a passage that I don't recall from before that I think explains why the Prophet Mohammed had more than four wives. Surah 33:50 indicates that he alone was exempt from some marriage rules. I always wondered about that -- by my recollection he had nine wives but Muslims are limited to four wives (and from most of the Muslim men I've spoken to one wife is plenty. “Big headache! Don’t do it!” was the advice from one Bahraini taxi driver.  )

I also have plans to visit one of the mosques that conduct prayers in English to witness the evening prayers and maybe listen to a lecture if one is held. Stay tuned.

Dr. Zakir Naik - a lecture, a question, and my shoes

Finally Dr. Naik took the stage and gave a 90 minute lecture on the media and Islam. Some highlights (I'm not quoting verbatim here and, no, I have not doublechecked to see if some of the facts he mentions are true):

• The Western media focuses on the “black sheep” in Islam and treats them as if they were conventional Muslims, implying that all Muslims must be like them. [I can't argue with that one, I have said so myself in this blog]
• The media are quick to point out when a person or group is Muslim, but if the group are not Muslims then their religion is never a focus -- you have never heard the general media refer to the IRA as a "Christian terrorist group" or “Catholic terrorist group”, or imply that their actions are somehow representative of Catholicism. [I think he has a point there - but there aren’t a lot of religious-based terrorist groups out there right now that are not Muslim. I suppose the Lord's Resistance Army comes to my mind and if I recall correctly the media does not refer to them as a Christian terrorist group either.]
• A Muslim killing a few people is big news in the West, Maoist rebels killing dozens of people is not. [Fair comment I suppose]
• One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. The British would've considered George Washington to be a terrorist. [No idea about this one but the terrorist/freedom fighter argument is an old one]
• Islam really is a religion of peace and Muslims should use violence only as a last resort. Some Muslims are misguided and forget this. Regardless, the Western media loves to take quotes from the Qur’an out of context to support this violent interpretation. There are plenty of violent quotations one could get from the Bible, Hindu Scripture or any other Scripture. [Yes, but I will point out that out-of-context quoting by the West it is not just limited to Islam, quoting biologists out of context is a popular pastime for creationists, and the media love to quote politicians out of context. It is a problem though I agree.]
• The word “jihad” has been mistranslated to mean “holy war” but in truth the word means “strike” -- to strike against unfairness, poverty, wrongdoing and oppression. References to the word in the context to war can be found back in the Crusades but it was referring to the Christian attackers, not the Muslims. Unfortunately even many Muslims do not realize the word’s actual meaning. [My Qur’an says Jihad is “holy fighting in Allah’s cause”. I’ll have to take his word for it on this one]
• The West likes to paint Islam as inherently violent and state that it was spread “by the sword”. What army invaded Malaysia, China, or Indonesia? Why did the Mughul emperors not kill every non-Muslim in India? Why is there still a large population of Coptic Christians in Egypt to this day? How did significant Jewish populations live in the Middle East for centuries? How easy was it for non-Christians to live in the Christian world during the Middle Ages? What was the purpose of the Crusades? [But the spread of Islam wasn't entirely peaceful either, especially in the earlier days when it spreads throughout North Africa. That said, I'd say that from about 800 A.D. to 1600 A.D. the Islamic world was probably a lot more tolerant than the Christian West]
• Watching most news media is worse than watching pornography. Pornography is simply haram (forbidden), media actively attacks you by using misinformation to turn you from your beliefs, or manipulate you into certain actions. [He did re-emphasize that pornography is still bad and you shouldn't watch it]
• Islam does not hold a candle to Christianity in terms of its organization and ability to spread its message. India has almost 100,000,000 Muslims yet the circulation of one of the best Islamic magazines in the country is maybe 50,000 copies. Compare that to the Christian magazine Watchtower, which has a circulation of tens of millions in dozens of languages -- and the Christian group that publishes Watchtower is not even considered a mainstream group of Christianity. In the United States churches can raise millions of dollars quickly to form TV stations, publishing houses, missionary work or whatever else they need to spread their message. Dr. Naik has never heard of an Islamic group who is able to do that to the extent that many US church groups can. [I'll take his word for it]
• Muslims have to be careful about the media quoting them out of context, this has happened to Dr. Naik in many instances to try to make his words sound worse than they really were, including on TV. [Out-of-context quoting is not limited to attacking Islam]
• Muslims are not utilizing media to its fullest extent and so are at a disadvantage to the negative views portrayed in the West. [okay]

Not a whole lot I can say is flat out wrong and many of his points I have raised myself in one way or another on this blog.

Despite the heat and humidity in the tent it was still pretty much full by the time the speech ended. Some people left but they were quickly replaced by people from outside.

Then it was time for questions. A microphone was set up in the front and another one set up in the back for the ladies for people to ask questions. About 20 to 30 men immediately headed up to the microphone. However Dr. Naik had other ideas and said that he invited non-Muslims to attend this lecture and as non-Muslims are his guests he will give priority to any non-Muslim who has a question about Islam. They can immediately jump the queue and ask their questions first.

So I stood up, walked down the aisle to the microphone, and the first question of the evening came from yours truly! There were at least two TV cameras there, likely broadcasting the show on the Islamic channel "Peace TV”, which Dr. Naik does a lot of programs for. Who knew one day I'd wind up briefly on Islamic television?

My question:

In your opinion, what are the top two misconceptions the West has about Islam that it should be aware of? What are the things about Islam that the West needs to understand?

He gave a detailed answer and provided three items (I'm paraphrasing here):

1) that ultimately Islam is a religion of peace
2) that extremists should not be viewed as being representative of Islam or Muslims in general
3) that the Qur’an needs to be viewed in context and that the West should not focus on a few specific passages

He then went on to answer questions for another hour and a half, primarily from non-Muslims but then later from the Muslims in the audience.

When he left about 50+ people came forward to get pictures and (I presume since I saw a number of books) get his autograph on books he had authored.

Afterward a Pakistani colleague of mine managed to find me, he had been outside for most of it and told me about the thousands of people outside and the huge crush trying to get in. He sure was surprised to suddenly see me appear on the screens outside to ask Dr. Naik a question. He confirmed that Dr. Naik is quite well known in South Asia and is a popular scholar, appearing on many TV shows there. We chatted for a while waiting for the crowd to disperse.

So we left and sure enough my shoes were not where I had put them. My colleague helped me search for them and after a minute we managed to find one way off to the left of the door, and about five minutes of searching we found another one off to the right and around the corner of the tent (?! I don't even want to know how it wound up there, maybe George Bush walked by ;-) ). Anyway, I found my shoes! They weren't even damaged, just a few scuffs.

I got home at 1 am and figured there was no point in setting my alarm for 3 am just to have my Sohour -- I ate something right then and there and went to bed. Long day.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Lecture by Dr. Zakir Naik

Last Friday the papers advertised an English-language lecture by Dr. Zakir Naik, an Islamic scholar from India whose talk was titled "Islam and Media: War or Peace?" It sounded like a Ramadan thing to do so I got in the car and drove out to the tent where the event was being held.

The talk was scheduled for 9pm so I got to the location at 8:20 and to my surprise it was busy. Dozens of people were walking to the location. I parked the car and made my way towards the tent.

Outside some large screens and rows of chairs have been set out in case the tent got full so people could still watch the proceedings from outside. There was also a large carpeted area in front of the entrance, where dozens of men were praying. I took my shoes off before walking on the carpet and deposited them about 10 feet away from the entrance to the tent before going inside. The entrance was already pretty crowded and there was a bit of pushing and shoving getting in.

Now when I say tent I don't mean some small enclosure, this place was like a massive hall, probably 100+ feet wide and 500+ feet long. By my rough estimate it could seat about 2000 people. Volunteers were guiding people to seats so I wound up in a seat about a third of the way back, last seat in the row. There was separate seating for women at the back of the tent.

It was hot -- dang hot. The tent had about six or seven air-conditioners running but it was nowhere near enough and the temperature in the tent was probably about 30° and humid. Granted, it was still a little cooler than outside which was in the mid-30s. Didn't matter though, everyone was sweating. Thankfully volunteers would go up and down the aisles handing out small bottles of water.

People kept pouring in and it became apparent that the place was going to fill up. Over 2000 people were showing up for this lecture?! Talks at the Museum of Islamic Art are lucky to get more than 100.

When it was getting close to capacity there was still hordes of people at the door so the volunteers started trying to get people to sit outside in the chairs but it was such a mob scene but people kept pushing their way in. Eventually volunteers managed to shut the door and about four or five of them had to press against the door due to all the people trying to get in. Occasionally the volunteers would lose and the door would burst open again and about 30 to 40 people would come in before they could shut it. People outside were yelling at pushing to get in, the volunteers were yelling that them that the hall was full, it started getting quite chaotic. Peeking out the doorway I could see a massive crush of people trying to get into the place. (I later learned that there was probably another 2000+ people outside).

I started talking to the guy next to me, who turned out to be a Muslim from Sri Lanka, who told me Dr. Zakir was very famous in South Asia. A quick glance around I realized that almost everyone in the audience was from India, Pakistan and surrounding countries. Looks like I was attending a lecture by a Muslim religious celebrity.

There was still more scuffling outside and the volunteers were still having to brace the door to keep it shut. An organizer took the microphone to tell people outside that the hall was full and to sit in the chairs outside. Eventually the police showed up to calm things down. By this point in time it was about 9:30, Dr. Zakir was not going to go on stage until everything had settled.

That's when it dawned on me . . .

My shoes were outside and only 10 feet away from the door!!

Aw man, my shoes must have been totaled! Who would have expected my shoes would have wound up in the middle of a mob of Islamic scholar devotees?!

I resigned myself to walking back to my car in my socks and sat in the sweltering tent awaiting the start of the lecture.

To be continued...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ramadan – Days 3 & 4 – the weekend

The weekend was both eventful and uneventful. Because it was the weekend I could sleep in, which I definitely did to lessen the amount of waking hours I would be fasting. I'm still not used to waking up at 3am to have something to eat, on Friday morning I even forgot that I had a small bottle of laban on my nightstand so while I ate the dates and drank a glass of water I didn't drink the laban.

Friday during the day I worked in the office then went home and had a nap for an hour while I waited for Iftar. Had my Iftar snack at home.

It was then that I realized that pretty much everything I've been eating consisted of dates, nuts, bread, rice and maybe beans, with the exception of that Indian meal the night before. I had not eaten much in the way of vegetables. Now that I think about it, traditional Ramadan meals seem a little light on vegetables. Perhaps that's not too surprising, traditionally I don't think the Arabian Desert was awash with a wide choice of produce so vegetables would not have made up a large part of the diet.

Anyway, figured I had better eat some vegetables, so I went to the mall food court where I knew a place that did a nice pasta with vegetables (you get to pick the vegetables and they cook it there in front of you before adding it to the pasta).

Now I had read in the paper that there was a lecture (in English) that evening by a visiting Islamic scholar named Dr. Zakir Naik, and it was open to people from all religions. It started at 9pm so I decided that would be a good way to spend a Ramadan evening so I went to the lecture. To describe what happened will require another blog post so I will tell you about that later. I got home a little after 1am so rather than go to bed and then wake up at 3 I decided to just have my Sohour meal right away and then go to bed.

I woke up around 10 with a bit of an "oversleep headache" but of course I can't drink any water or anything so I got out of bed, had a shower, and went to the office to continue working. I was feeling a little bit under the weather so it was tougher fasting today than it had been previously as I really wanted to drink something. Maybe I hadn't had enough water the night before and was a bit dehydrated. I will have to remember to drink more water during the night.

I find fasting is toughest in the early afternoon. My stomach really starts acting up around 12:30, basically saying "lunchtime" and by 1:30 it really starts growling, cajoling me to hurry up and get some lunch. By about 3 my stomach has calmed down and I guess resigned itself that it's not getting any food. Of course by then my mind starts wandering a bit and my memory starts to lapse a little and I know that it is time for a nap.

Met my Kuwaiti friend and a work colleague just before Iftar so that we could go to the Souq to have Iftar at a restaurant there. An Egyptian friend of mine met up with us so the four of us broke our fast (well, three of us were fasting anyway) at an Iraqi restaurant. Much like the Indian place they supplied us with complementary dates and juice for the Iftar. Much like the Indian place I ate a lot of food; once you start eating after fasting all day it is hard to stop.

After the meal we went to our favorite Chinese massage place, also at the Souq, for foot massages. I've been getting pretty hooked on going for massages at this place and I'm probably there at a minimum once every two weeks now. I blame my Kuwaiti friend, who introduced me to the place. After that one of my buddies had to go to a small stall at the Souq to follow up on a watch he left for repair, and because of the heat we stopped to have an ice cream in an air-conditioned cafe before heading back.

Did I mention that I've also sworn off alcohol during Ramadan as well? No more nightcaps at home or meeting up with people for a beer (not that I could anyway, any place that sells alcohol is closed during Ramadan). This isn't a big step for me as I was never much of a drinker anyway, the odd G&T in the evening or a few beers at Comedy Night at the Ramada was my general drinking habit.

Well it's just after midnight so it's time to get my Sohour meal prepared on the nightstand and go to bed -- workday tomorrow.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fasting -- day two

I forgot to mention that my attempt to wean myself off caffeine was successful. Once I started fasting I had no issues with caffeine withdrawal. Haven't had a coffee or tea until last night (which was just a couple of small cups of Arabic coffee). No headaches, no withdrawal symptoms.

The second day was as I expected a bit tougher than the first. I got to bed around midnight the night before so I was on a bit less sleep. By the afternoon I was definitely fading. I also noticed that my memory was a bit impaired, it was more difficult to remember things and I occasionally found myself having to pause to think of something like name of the restaurant I ate at a few days ago.

Got home around 3:30 but was not exhausted so surfed the net for a while before going to bed around 4:30 for an hour.

For Iftar I met up with a Kuwaiti friend of mine and his wife to have dinner at an Indian restaurant. Even though it was an Indian restaurant when we sat down they put a plate of dates on the table and gave us each glasses of lemon with mint and a big bottle of water. We were still a few minutes early so we sat at the table with this food and drink in front of us that we couldn't touch because it was not officially time yet.

Qatar does a pretty good job in trying to inform people when everyone can break the fast. At about the same time my friend’s mobile rang to tell him it was time (I think his phone service provides that if you register), the ambient music in the restaurant suddenly changed to a prayer, and in the distance there was a sound of a cannon firing (or maybe it was a firework). I think the cannon was something the Government arranged so that it creates a loud noise across the city to let everyone know they can start eating. And once again once I started eating it was difficult to stop, though I will admit it was good Indian food.

After dinner we were out and about doing some shopping and stuff. Went to a supermarket at around 10:30pm and it was absolutely packed with people buying groceries.

Was in bed about midnight and once again set my alarm for 3 am so I could snack on some dates and dried fruit and drink a glass of water. I also left a small bottle of laban on my nightstand but at 3 a.m. I completely forgot it was there so I didn't drink it. I don't even think I open my eyes while I was eating. Slept until 9:30 and once I finish this post I'll head out to work. Yep, it's the weekend but I have a ton of stuff at the office that I need to do. Hopefully this will keep me occupied so I won't be thinking about food all day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramadan -- day one

Okay, 10 minutes to go before I can start eating. I have a plate of dates and a glass of water ready and I have some rice cooking for a little bit later. So how did it go?

So far not too bad, woke up at 3 am briefly to have some food, then back to bed until seven before getting up to go to work. It was a busy day so that kept me occupied and not dwelling on food or drink but I definitely was getting hungry by about 11, and by 2 I was feeling a little weak. Got home from work a little after 3:30 but didn't really feel tired enough to sleep so I surfed the net for a little bit then went to bed around 4:30 and slept for an hour. I am starving right now!

I figure the next day will be tougher because I will probably be going to bed later tonight so won't have as much sleep as I did the night before. Once I have my iftar meal I'm heading over to a friend’s place for a while.

One of my work colleagues gave me a Ramadan prayer schedule (from which shows the various prayer times. Generally sunrise is around 3:45am and sunset meal at about 6:10pm but of course the day gets shorter the further along the month you go. By the middle of the month sunrise is at 3:52 and sunset at 5:59. I figure I'll just stick to getting up around three o'clock for a snack.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ramadan 2010 has started!

Apparently the announcement was made this evening, Ramadan has begun.

So I will set an alarm for 3am for my predawn meal. Got my dates and figs ready, I'll have a piece of Arabic bread as well. My colleague hasn't forwarded to me a website to determine sunrise and sunset times so I guess I'll look it up on my own, and ask my colleagues tomorrow at work.

Let's see how this goes...

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Fasting, part three

I asked some colleagues about “sawiq” to break the fast and they told me it was not a requirement by any means to eat sawiq, in fact traditionally one breaks your fast with dates. So I purchased a bunch of dates (three different varieties, there's a wide variety of dates here and they do have different tastes to them), some figs, and some dried fruit. I'll be sure to keep a small plate of them by my bed each evening for my pre-dawn meal.

Now the pre-dawn meal, I believe called Sohour, can range from as simple as a few dates and some water, to lavish multicourse meals. One of my colleagues typically has dates, water, and some yogurt for his meal, one of my Qatari friends will have that and some toast, and another mentioned beans as a good meal because they take longer to digest. My Qatari friend also mentioned that if he is with his family his mother will usually cook something for Sohour such as scrambled eggs. There appears to be no specific food item for Sohour, though everyone seems to have dates.

Qatar is also preparing for the holy month and the Government has incepted mandated prices for about 150 food items to ensure that there is no price-gouging. Grocery stores are required to prominently display the list so that customers can be aware of the mandated price. I saw the list the other day and it appears to be primarily basic foodstuffs (milk, yogurt, cooking oil, some types of meats like chicken, household items like tissues). Dates are not one of the mandated things -- there are so many different varieties of dates, with different prices, that there be no way for the government to mandate one price for them. Grocery stores have huge displays out piled high with dates, figs & nuts. The bakery section also has certain desserts commonly served during Ramadan. I'll try to get a picture for next blog.

As for me I'm on one cup of coffee a day now so it shouldn't be too difficult to turn the caffeine tap off in a few days. I've gotten mixed reviews about how well this will work; some have told me I will struggle while others have said that if I change my sleep schedule accordingly it shouldn't be too bad. One of my Muslim colleagues is going to send me an Internet link to a chart so that I can determine when I need to wake up in the night for my last (first?) meal. When I receive the link I'll post it here.

So far I believe this is how my workday schedule will look:

~3:00am: wake up for Sohour meal
3:15am: go back to bed
6:45am: wake up for work
7:30am: start work
2:30pm: work is done, head home
2:45pm: go to bed
~6:00pm: wake up for Iftar (breaking the fast)
6:30 – 12:30: live a life
~12:30ish: go to bed

Of course this schedule is likely to change. Waking up for Iftar will depend on whether I'm going to be joining other people (in which case I will need to get up earlier) or staying at home. I think it will be a challenge for me to sleep for three hours in the middle of the afternoon, something I've never done unless I'm sick. If I have a nap in the afternoon longer than 45 minutes I usually get a bit of a headache. I'll ask my friends about what to do with medicine, hopefully it'll be okay to take a paramecatol or something.

I think the weekends are actually going to be more of a challenge than the weekday. On the weekday as I have work to keep me occupied, on the weekend I might just be sitting at home in which case the temptation to eat snacks or drink some water will be far worse. I'll have to talk to my friends about what they do to resist temptation or distract themselves, unfortunately it is summer so going out for a walk or going outside would make things even worse -- you could die walking around in 45+ degree heat without water. And anyone who's followed this blog regularly knows I am susceptible to heatstroke.

Finally, there've been a few comments on my blog providing me with either support or quoting some Hadiths, one of which indicated that it doesn't "count" to Allah without converting, or something along those lines. Let me make this clear -- I am not a Muslim (nor do I play one on TV ;-) ). This is an attempt at experiencing part of the culture to which I am currently living in, and by blogging about it perhaps introducing non-Muslims, especially Westerners, to an objective view of the experience. The West misunderstands the Islamic world to an extent I could not fathom until I moved here. At this point in time the Islamic world and the West are at a crossroads, and resolving the problems between us will not work until such time as the West at least makes an attempt to understand the Islamic world and to not stereotype it based on news reports from Afghanistan or Palestine. Whether it's scaring Swiss voters into banning minarets with visions of niqab-clad women, banning burqas in France, or wrongly assuming Arab feminists are obsessed with veils as "symbols of oppression”, the West is clearly showing the Islamic world it has a lot to learn, and our proud talk of “freedom” will continue to ring hollow. Until such time as the West is willing to meet the Islamic world halfway, to stop projecting our assumptions of what is "wrong" there, and instead make an honest effort to understand their cultures, we will never be able to resolve our differences. I am here in the Middle East and so I will take this unique opportunity to try to understand a Qatari view as best I can. Fasting is just one small step in the process.

I will end with a quote from the recent issue of Time Out - Doha magazine, which has an interview with Mr. Mohammed Ali Al Ghamidi from the Qatar Islamic Cultural Centre, discussing Ramadan and whether non-Muslims can attend Iftar banquets:

“Of course it is permissible to attend an Iftar. Actually, we recommend trying the fast, and breaking it in the company of Muslims, to gain a sense of the community and belonging.”

Thank you Mr. Al Ghamidi, I truly hope to do so.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Fasting preparations -- part two

Coincidentally the office invited a speaker from the Islamic Cultural Center (the place where I recently went to observe Friday prayers at their mosque, see my April 17, 2010 post) to give an hour-long presentation on Ramadan. It turns out while he was dressed like a Qatari he was actually born in the UK so spoke excellent English. I think he was of Pakistani descent.

He did not dwell too much on fasting, but did remark that dates were the common way to end the fast and noted the timing of various meals. Because it is summer and the sun rises early you have to eat your "morning" meal around 3am. 3am?! Well, okay, I suppose I can do that. I'll be more fortunate than Muslims because after I had this meal I will just go back to bed, Muslims have to pray. I'll have to think about how to work that out, I'll probably just keep a small plate of dates and some water or something by my bed for that 3 AM meal.

I've also taken an opportunity to review some of the hadiths, more specifically the Al-Bukhari Hadiths, a set of hadiths widely accepted by Muslims. Of the around 2200 hadiths there are around 50 of them in a chapter called "The Book of As-Saum” (As-Saum means The Fasting). Many of them are reward-based ones regarding heaven and so forth, mentioning how people who fast will go to Paradise etc. but here are the more day-to-day requirements mentioned in the hadiths:

• Avoid sexual relations with your wife while fasting (not sure why it is just wife and not spouse), because you're not fasting during the evening it's okay then.
o In fact it seems to emphasize that refraining from sexual relations with your wife during evenings is not a good thing so people should not think it is "better" to avoid sexual relations completely during the month of Ramadan. This is mentioned about three or four times. It is also noted that the Prophet Mohammed would visit his wives during Ramadan.
o It also notes that the Prophet used to embrace or kiss his wives while he was fasting during the day, so I guess that's okay.
o If you have sexual relations while fasting (not exactly something you can accidentally do I guess) you should either feed 60 poor people, free a slave, or fast for two successive months instead of one. That is if you can afford to do any of it. In one instance the man who broke the rules was so poor that his "punishment" was that the Prophet gave him a basket of dates and told him to feed his family with it.
• if somebody fights with you or abuses you, you should it say to them twice that you're fasting
• if you cannot observe the Moon to determine when Ramadan ends because the sky is overcast then regard the month to be 30 days [because it is a lunar month sometimes it is 29 days]
• Allah will not accept your fasting if you do not give up lying, acting on those lies, and evil actions
• you should not fast for a day or two ahead of Ramadan unless you have a habit of fasting for other reasons
• some of the Prophet's companions, if they were sleeping when nightfall came and thus missed the breaking of the fast, would not eat at all that evening and of course fast all the next day. The Prophet informed them they did not have to do that and could still eat during the night.
• Fast from the first light of dawn appears to you and is distinct from the darkness of night (which I guess right now is around 3:30 in the morning)
• if you eat or drink something forgetfully just continue fasting as usual, it does not negate your fast for that day
• letting out blood medically while fasting is okay
• you can fast while traveling if you wish but you do not have to
• you should not fast if it would harm yourself needlessly (i.e. you are sick, or weak, or getting heat stroke from being out in the sun)
• if someone has died during Ramadan and thus has missed some days of fasting then his guardians should observe the fast on his behalf (not sure if this means extra days of fasting for them if they are already fasting themselves)
• numerous hadiths mention that people break their fast with something called Sawiq mixed with water. I don't know what that is, I'll have to ask someone.
• If you break the fast too early you should try to make up the extra day after Ramadan
• apparently there are other holy days where Muslims fast for a day such as the day of Ashura (not sure when that is)

Okay that doesn't seem too bad, the 3am thing will be a test though. I'll see what other rules there are when I talk with my Muslim friends.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Fasting preparation and Qur'an review

So I've already cut my coffee intake by half and I figure by Sunday I will be down to one cup a day, from there I'll switch to decaf until Ramadan begins.

I spoke with an Egyptian colleague and he warned me that it was not going to be easy, by midafternoon you're really wiped out. And I have to be careful about going outside and exposing myself to the summer heat for any length of time since you are not allowed to drink water when fasting. He also mentioned that the traditional meal for breaking your fast is some dates and laban (a type of yogurt drink) but I think I will look up the actual Hadith on that. He said it was not a requirement though and you can break your fast with any food.

He seemed a bit perplexed that I would be trying this since I am not Muslim (makes sense, how many non-Muslims generally go "hey I am going to fast too") but he was supportive and perhaps a bit bemused that I was doing this as a cultural experience to share on my blog.

We also discussed briefly about how most Muslims don't take fasting to the extremes, such as people who won't have a shower during the day for fear that they might swallow some water, it's all about genuinely trying to stick with the fast without going to ridiculous lengths. I'm willing to bet some Islamic scholars would disagree with that view.

I also got out my trusty Qur’an to review the sections on fasting. Surprisingly for such a significant event the Qur'an itself only has a handful of passages on it, primarily 2:183- 2:187, the most significant ones being 2:184, 2:185 and 2:187. In brief:

2:184 -- observe the fast for a fixed number of days but if you are ill or on a journey you do not have to fast and can make up those days later. If you have difficulty fasting (because you are elderly or pregnant) you can instead feed a poor person for each day you do not fast.

2:185 -- a month of Ramadan begins when you first sight the crescent moon. And reiterates that if you are ill or on a journey you can make up the days later.

2:187 -- you can have sexual intercourse with your spouse during the evenings. You can eat and drink until the light of dawn appears but you must ensure that you fast until nightfall (i.e all day).

For some reason I recall that children are not supposed to fast either but I don't see it in those sections. I'll do some reviews of the Hadiths later where there will be a lot more detail about fasting and what is and is not acceptable.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


Ramadan is fast approaching, which is a period of about a month when Muslims fast during daylight hours, and will not even drink water. It also means that all restaurants in the country will be closed during the day, and alcohol will not be sold anywhere. Even the hotels close down their bars during Ramadan.

Since moving to Qatar a little over four years ago I have made an effort to learn or experience some aspects of Qatari culture -- going to prayers at a mosque, learning Arabic, reading the Qur’an and Hadiths, smoking shisha (okay, I'm kidding about the last one). I figure since Ramadan is approaching I will try out another tradition this year.


Since it is something that Muslims do every year for an entire month I figure why not give it a try and see how challenging it is. I will admit a few other factors have also influenced my decision:

• I'm trying to lose weight, hopefully this will help

• I will only be doing it for about two weeks rather than a month. I'm going back to Canada at the end of August so I will end the fast when I leave

• I do not live far from the office so I do not have to worry about driving home after work feeling tired and dizzy from not eating all day.

Ramadan is a little more than a week away so I do not have a lot of time to prepare. I will talk to my Muslim colleagues in the office to see what is the best way to approach this and how traditionally they start and stop the fast every day. I think the biggest challenge for me will be not having any water, or coffee for that matter. I think I'd better start weaning myself off the caffeine now so I do not end up with a big headache the first day of the fast.

And of course I'll blog about the preparations and my experience with fasting so that you can learn about it as well. Maybe I will also try to find out more about other aspects of Ramadan and how it works in Qatar.