Yassir Abdella grew up in a mixed society of Muslims and Christians in Eritrea. Every Ramadan he reminisces about those days. The days in which his “Christian friends were excited over the homely bakery, sambosa and sweets” brought to them during the Muslim fasting month.
Now in Qatar, he works as an associate in the fraud monitoring team of a bank. Despite bouts of homesickness, he gets along, having made friends from different continents. They talk about films and web series.
But Ramadan is different. Observant Muslims abstain from food, drink, and other worldly temptations from dawn to dusk. More pious ones avoid all entertainments. It’s a season of prayers, self-reflection, and kindness. This month-long routine lasts till Eid Al Fitr.
Still, Ramadan transcends religions, feels Abdella. “Back home, the time brought the faithful of different religions together through shared meals and charity,” he says.
Being a bachelor is very tough for him because he says he’s bad at cooking. “This throws a chance to visit various friends and families, which is not much a norm here rest of the year.” During the non-Ramadan months, he meets his bachelor friends at Cafes.
This year, he wants to frequent iftar tents. “I don't go to tents usually because I am either at work or have already prepared food with friends. But I might give it a try this year. I heard many people praising the varieties being served there.”
How the fasting month brings memories of food is a paradox. Daylong abstinence makes your relationship with the food deeper. You grasp its meaning. As early as last Friday, a restaurateur in Matar Qadeem was seen so eager to remind patrons of the iftar options available at his establishment.
No matter what your doctors and health officials tell about the ideal diet, you break rules for the pleasure of company and prestige. Shihab Thoonery, an HR professional working in the health sector said, “We purchase a lot. Last week my wife told me to buy her lots of sugar. So I bought 25kg of sugar.”
Despite these bulk purchases, many dine out. “Last year, the restaurants we love to go had been reserved for all Fridays and Saturdays before the beginning of the month,” says Thoonery, who is from Kerala, India.
Many pointed out that relaxed working hours make Ramadan a pleasant experience in Qatar. Sports journalist Irfan Hussain says, “Relaxed office timings and lack of workload leaves ample to time to prayers and Quran-recitation. ” He was living in Najma as a bachelor until last year he brought his family. So he knows the best of both worlds. “Now iftars are mostly with my family at home unless we get an invitation.
He likes one more thing in Qatar. “In Pakistan prices go up in Ramadan. But since the Qatar government regulates the prices and subsidises the essential items, the household expenses stay as the rest of the year, despite the heavy purchase.”
His purchase cart gets filled with “fruits, pakora, samosa items and lots of meat.” Rooh Afza? Yes. Many South Asians buy this sugary syrup of Unani origin, manufactured both in India and Pakistan. The drink is one of the most sold squashes after Manchester-origin Vimto in this category.
It’s bachelors and not families who enjoy most of the Ramadan’s community gatherings and bonhomie. They have more mobility and freedom as to where to go to pray and dine. “Many bachelors have the habit of going to iftar tents in groups. And some fetch ‘harees’ from the houses of citizens in the neighborhood,” says Lukhmanul Hakeem, a videographer at an armed force wing.
Bachelors usually divide the expenses among themselves, says Abdella, the Eritrean. “We chip in money depending on our needs and buy what's necessary for the week on the weekend before. It's mostly chicken, vegetables, salads, and soup.”
His shopping cart may include Vimto, Quicker for soup, samosa, lemon and orange, Injera (Eritrean bread), rice, yogurt, and milk and meat.
MS Ahmed, from Bihar, India, says: “Every system in Qatar works in line with Ramadan timings and you feel the fervor all around.” For him, this adds to the prayer-friendliness in Qatar. “Be it a workplace, hotel or mall, fuel station or fire station, everywhere there is a mosque to pray all seasons.”
For him, the food consumption pattern doesn't change much. “We prefer fruits and meat to vegetables. Dates, Chickpeas, Rooh Afza, fruit salad, fresh lemon juice are some additional items that we take for breaking the fast.”
Saeideh Gheblehzadeh, a graduate student, who stays in Qatar with her Iranian parents for long says, “It's mostly with my family. Every weekend we are invited for iftaar.” She asked her parents if they remembered anything about Ramadan from their childhood. “The only thing they remember is Eid. And we don’t have traditional Iranian food during Ramadan.” Her quick shopping list includes Rooh afza, Al Kabeer samosas, Al Kabeer breaded chicken breasts, kunafa, and Arabic sweets.
Zakariya Puthan Veettil, who works in the HMC says he prefers to spend time at home. During Ramadan, he recites the Quran in full. His daily target is to finish a Juz' (30th part of the holy book).
His expenses go up a bit during the month. He avoids snacks and prefers a straight entry into wholesome meals. This is interesting because he comes from Thalassery, a town in Kerala known its rich snack culture and bakeries. “I buy lots of fruits to make juices to please my fasting kids,” he says. While he was in Oman, he visited a few tents with his family, but not these days because “they are for bachelors in Qatar.”
No matter how expats observe or celebrate the month, the difference is only in details. The universal thing such as two big meals at sundown and predawn and the inclusion of the date prevails in Qatar as everywhere. The hadith records that Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) always broke the fast with dates and water. It’s a quick energy booster rich in carbs.