Ramadan has begun. Back in the States people are mostly just familiar with it as a period
that seems to come at a different time each year, about which foreign policymakers are skittish. As a dilettantish non-Muslim foreigner in a country populated by Shi’a but run by Sunni, I know only marginally more than that myself… but I do know at least a little bit. So here are some words on the Salty Wog’s take on Ramadan.
You may not know the Islamic calendar is similar to the Jewish calendar in that it is lunar-based. That’s why Ramadan keeps moving up a few days each year on the Gregorian calendar. The holy period commences with the first sighting of the crescent moon after the new moon. In the weeks leading up to it, we knew Ramadan was beginning sometime around now but no one could say when exactly. That’s because it’s an actual sighting of the moon – yeah, we know to the second all the phases of the moon due to super-advanced techniques developed centuries ago, but someone has to actually see it. And you never know when the guy on watch will be taking a coffee break, or if a cloud will get in the way. But eventually the crescent moon will appear, and Ramadan will begin. If you can’t see it because you’re spending summer at the North Pole, just follow Mecca’s schedule.
Us secular Americans were very interested in Ramadan’s beginnings because it really changes the daily routine in the city. Muslims are confined to six-hour workdays, and business hours radically change. Many places are open first thing in the morning, but close the bulk of the day and open up again after dark. The many Muslims who work on base get alternate hours, and I would imagine (though I don’t know) they’ve had to hire some extra seasonal workers to fill in the gaps. You’ve really got to plan.
The biggest change is food and water consumption. Muslims are supposed to fast during daylight (again, those in the extreme latitudes follow Mecca). Public consumption of food and drink is forbidden in Bahrain and the other Gulf nations during this time. We can do whatever we want on base, of course, or behind closed doors, but if you’re drinking from a water bottle on the street, or so much as chewing gum, you could be cited.
It used to be the U.S. personnel had to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts out in town; that’s how I packed, anticipating Ramadan when I was planning my extended stay. However, that has been relaxed this year because, in practice, none of the locals do that. So our dress is basically unchanged, though wearing an In-N-Out t-shirt with a big picture of a double-double is probably frowned upon.
Restaurants will be open late every night. I anticipate seeing a lot of voraciously hungry customers out there.
Sensitive Westerners try making a good-faith effort to curtail their military operations during Ramadan. Not that their adversaries often care; there was a spate of attacks last year during the month, and ISIS is apparently threatening overseas attacks in the next few weeks. So much for that.
Should be an interesting month.