SRIMOYEE TAMULI PHUKAN indulges in the festivities of Eid in Qatar
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As the holy month of Ramadan comes to an end, excitement around Eid is palpable in the Qatari air. With Qatar-based newspapers, magazines and the virtual world going abuzz with news, information and useful tidbits on what, how and the where of Eid festivities, it transports me to my first Ramadan and Eid in Qatar. It also reminds me of how I graduated from ‘Ramzaan’ to ‘Ramadan’ in a matter of few days!
Having worked out of an office in the vicinity of Old Delhi where Eid celebrations remain paramount around this time, my expectations knew no bounds from my first Eid as a non-Muslim in an Islamic country. While I had some idea about how normal life takes a complete turn during Ramadan here, I was hardly prepared for what it truly entailed. I remember writing excited mails to friends in my anticipation of markets and public places exploding into glittering lights and colorful stalls during night and the usual hustle bustle during the day. Needless to say, I was spoilt by the atmosphere around Diwali and Holi back home. But Eid in Qatar has many other facets to it and I was in for lot of surprises – more good than bad.
Besides office hours slashing down by two hours with most employees fasting, one cannot eat, drink or smoke in public during Ramadan, keeping with the local custom and tradition. This meant all eating joints in the city remaining closed till sun down. This also meant stocking up the fridge well while shops are still open and not relying on a quick snack from a drive-away like on normal days. But as the blistering sun languidly goes down, making way for the first drop of water and nibble for the believers, the whole town seems to take to the streets to do nothing, but eat! With the unimaginable number of cars raging on the roads to make to their destinations in no time, this month also sees an alarmingly high number of road mishaps and accidents.
The preparation for the holy month starts a week ahead as grocery shopping turns into a ‘consumer emergency.’ Shoppers queue in lines at supermarkets with loaded carts, and rolls of riyals are exchanged for rolls of grocery receipts. Then malls are decked up with Islamic art, ‘Ramadan Kareem’ and ‘Eid Mubarak’ banners, bright lights and colorful lanterns. Stores display their latest Ramadani fashion trends and hotels promote their special banquets for ‘iftaars’ and ‘suhoors.’ With discounted rates on latest gadgets, household items, food, clothes and what-have-you, one is bound to remain outdoors most part of the evening exploring these offers.
Like other Arab countries, Qataris are also known for their family intimacy. Although traditionally iftaars are had at homes along with friends and relatives, with the boom of consumerism and innumerable food joints attending to the whims and fancies of the consumers, Qataris too have taken to eating out during Ramadan and Eid. These outings go on till the wee hours of night and expatriates like me can make the most of this festive season by exploring the city at night, which one is not likely to do on a normal day.
Newspapers arrive thick and fat with list of discounted rates on goods during this festive season. One is likely to receive a pack of iftaar goodies while waiting at a traffic signal and receiving acts of unexpected generosity from absolute strangers. A friend talked about how he and his friends were offered money for movie tickets when his credit card ditched him, and the lesson learnt on how refusing the money can cause indignity to the offer. All this point towards one thing – the spirit of Ramadan and what it preaches amongst the believers of Islam – patience, tolerance, spirituality and generosity. Keeping with this spirit, this month also sees the highest number of organ donation in this part of the world and an iftaar organized for construction laborers are not rare sights across the city. One can also donate old clothes, food and other useful items at specific points near malls and other important landmarks across the city.
This year Qatar highlights ‘Islamic calligraphy’ as its theme for Ramadan and Eid. Both citizens and residents are encouraged to participate in various events and activities such as – sand painting, dance performances, fashion shows, painting and photography exhibitions. There are a host of sports related activities taking place to boost sports in the region.
Although many Qataris today feel that globalization and consumerism has taken away the simplicity and goodness of Ramadan and Eid, but this transformation is happening worldwide and is inevitable. For instance, not being an expert in detecting the Qibla’s direction by the sun is no longer a problem. Using Qibla apps for your prayers can be an easy one-tap solution. Tablet and smart phone apps can also be used for digital Quran recitation, Islamic e-lessons and alerts for adhaan, iftaar and suhoor. But despite these changes I’m sure that the first sweet taste of dates after hearing the Maghrib adhaan tastes just as good today as it did a century ago.