Ramadan is almost upon us and for Muslims worldwide the Holy Month is much anticipated. It is a month of fasting, prayers, charitable acts (known as Zakat) and festivities. In Kuwait these are often centred around family diwaniyas, a large meeting place where friends and family gather to pay respects and hold lavish late-night suppers.
For my Kuwaiti friends who do not have to work, day seemed to turn into night, they rise late in the afternoon and sleep after the pre-dawn meal, Suhoor, in the early hours. Meanwhile the roads are thick with traffic as people shift from diwaniya to diwaniya to pay respects.
If someone is sick, elderly or pregnant they are permitted to skip fasting, but usually, after the Holy Month is over the period that was skipped must be made-up.
Between sunset and sunrise, there are three kinds of meals Futuoh or Iftar, just after sunset, the uniquely Kuwaiti Ghabka, usually a huge supper gathering held a couple of hours after breaking fast, and a chance for companies and large organizations to organize get-togethers. In the very early morning, there is Suhoor, the last meal before sunrise.
In Kuwait you also may be invited to a Qureish, a sort of big celebratory feast – often with seafood – which is held the eve of Ramadan. Children have huge fun with Girgian, mid-way through the Holy Month. This is the time young kids dress-up and go around the houses singing and are rewarded with bags of assorted candies, very much like Trick-or Treat…
For non-Muslims, the Holy Month can sometimes hard, however there is a lighter and truly enjoyable side of Ramadan that is accessible to all. Here in Kuwait, it is a great privilege and honour to be invited to someone’s home, or a restaurant, for Futuoh. Popular traditional dishes are served alongside delicious fruity drinks and smoothies. I always take along a small gift of cookies or chocolates.
Local TV, radio and the prayer call at the local mosque will announce the end of that day’s fasting period. For exact prayer times, newspapers publish Ramadan prayer timetables or ask your friends if they have a spare pocket-sized schedule, called an emsakiya. Always check out Maghreb prayer timings to know when fasting ends.
This also means for 40 minutes prior the traffic is insane as thousands of people rush to get home, or to the mosque, to get ready for breaking fast. With high temperatures and unruly driving due to long hours of fasting, it is easy for tempers to fray and accidents to happen. If you can, try to reach home well before sunset. Malls only open in the evenings but they close late, and food deliveries are extremely busy in the run up to sunset.
To break fast I am a big fan of the local drinking yoghurt (laban) and dates which allows an empty stomach to gently revive, though others enjoy warm lentil soup. I have found dates are a good way keep my blood sugar balanced and cold Karkade, a refreshing drink of red hibiscus tea, helps lower blood pressure, lost electrolytes can be replaced with Gatorade.
Jaleeb is another favourite thirst-quencher, which has fragrant rose water and pine nuts, or try the popular apricot drink, it’s thick like a smoothie and full of goodness. Five apricots or un-salted almonds in the morning can help prevent dehydration but above all, if you can, avoid spending time in the sun!
Though food may be served in special private rooms for non-Muslims at work, no consumption of drink or food should take place in public; remember this is an imprisonable offence, those found guilty will stay incarcerated throughout Ramadan.
At its core, Ramadan is a time of compassion and of giving, many people make donations to charities and others who provide Iftar suppers for the needy.
With some planning ahead and understanding of local customs, Ramadan can be a greatly enjoyable way to share in the local culture and appreciate the food on the table. This is, after all, a month to remember those less fortunate, those for whom hunger is an everyday occurrence—not just for one month of the year.