Culture Saudi Arabia

Sawm: the fast from dawn until dusk during Ramadan

August 6, 2011

It must really take a lot of faith to become a “true” Muslim. Especially during the Ramadan, which almost always coincides with the peak of summer when the temperature could rise beyond the 50-degree Centigrade mark, I can’t imagine how could someone last a whole day without even sipping a single drop of water.

If you’re not aware of the Ramadan, here’s a little excerpt so you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about.

Miranet, a mosque's bell tower
Miranet, a mosque's bell tower

Muslim holiday of Ramadan

“Observed by more than one billion Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a time for spiritual purification achieved through fasting, self-sacrifice, and prayers.

Celebrated during the ninth month of Islamic calendar, the fast is observed each day from sunrise to sunset. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five Pillars of Islam. The Islamic belief that requires that Muslims perform five central duties in order to strengthen their faith. While Islam has two major sects — the Sunnis and the Shiites — all Muslims aim to realize these five pillars in their lifetime.”

Fasting is the keyword. No food, no water, not even a puff of cigarette from sunrise to sunset. FOR ONE WHOLE MONTH! And here we are Catholics boasting (if not whining) about our ability to abstain from eating meat on Fridays of Lent.

Sawm, Suhoor, Iftar

Sawm, the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam, is the act of fasting from dawn until dusk during the holy month of Ramadan. Suhoor, or the pre-dawn meal, is the meal Muslims eat before they start their fast past dawn. Iftar, on the other hand, is the feast that breaks the fast after sunset. It is usually, though not necessarily, a lavish meal and done as a community.

Non-Muslims are not required to observe sawm or fasting during the month of Ramadan here in Saudi Arabia. Though, as a consideration or a sign of respect for those who are fasting, non-Muslims must not display their non-observance in public. If they have to eat, drink or smoke a cigarette, they must do it in private. Imagine how much burden it would cause a person to see someone wolfing a plateful of meat when he is struggling to avoid food or water the entire day.

At work, non-Muslims would cover all glass windows on the cafeteria (the office pantries included) so they could still enjoy their mini snack bars during lunch or tea breaks. Also, working hours is shifted from the usual 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Which means people have to wake up at 4 in the morning instead of 5 to prepare for work. But one good thing that springs from all these adjustments is that we can go home an hour earlier than usual. Not to mention the roads suddenly appear wider as there are fewer vehicles at the time of fasting.

And just like the assorted mooncakes during the Mid-Autumn or Moon Cake Festival in China, samosa, more popularly known among the desert locals as sambusa, suddenly become the sales top grosser on groceries, convenience stores, and street markets.

Non-locals here would usually avoid the curry-flavored ones but my least favorite is the ones with goat’s cheese filling. A colleague said he once bought a pack of sambusa for 5 riyals on the first day of Ramadan but, due to its popularity, a bag already costs 15 riyals the following day.

Desert life is like a bag of sambusa. You never know what you’re gonna get.

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