Bahrain has a wealth of cultural and culinary options at this time of year – you just need to know where to look
Time Out Bahrain Staff
Rosy Moorhead catches up with French Muslim convert, Brother Amin, a volunteer guide at Al Fateh Mosque, to get to grips with the holy month.
Can you tell me what Ramadan means? Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic year, the same way you have September in English. Ramadan is first and foremost about worshipping God. It’s a challenging time. It will be even more challenging this year because it’s in August. This is what Ramadan is about, challenging the faith of the people.
What’s the significance of fasting? It’s supposed to be difficult, it’s supposed to be challenging. God wants to see his creatures in this situation, and fasting, if it’s done in December, is easier, but is still a challenge.
Is the idea that your body is cleansed and purified to open your spirit to God? Sure. Purification has two aspects in Islam, one of which is physical and the second one is more on a spiritual level. It’s the same as when people perform the ritual ablutions – they actually wash themselves, but it’s also spiritual. In the same way you have the Prophet Moses or the Prophet Jesus fasting for forty days. So it’s adapted to us, to the common people, because we do not fast in the same way that they were compelled to fast. Meanwhile, it’s a challenge and it’s also purification, and is presented as such in the Qur’an.
So what does the day entail exactly? You start to fast at the moment of the first prayer of the morning, and when you hear the call of the sunset prayer, you break the fast, usually by having labneh and dates. It’s more stomach-friendly, easier than having Coca-Cola and fries! The tradition is to eat reasonably, not to excess. You have a normal meal at sunset and then wake up early the following day to have a complete meal, and drink of course: one has to replenish, especially in August. But tradition is not about spending the night eating. We can see this at times here and there. That’s not the point.
I’ve heard a lot of people put on weight because the body’s not used to it, it thinks it’s starving. Because they do not follow tradition. They will have something at nine, then something at ten or eleven o’clock, then even push it further. The soul is weak, but ideally you should not do that.
Is fasting compulsory or voluntary? It’s compulsory but, of course, as with everything that is compulsory in religion, you have ways to adapt it because sometimes it’s simply not possible to fast. If you are temporarily sick you will make it up later on. If somebody’s sick or has to take some medication, these people are able to compensate by providing food to needy people. This is the last resort.
What about pregnant women? No, pregnant women are not obliged. They are not able to fast so they will make it up later on. There are also special rules for women breastfeeding, they need vitamins. So for this they can compensate in other ways.
Are you supposed to be extra observant of the rules of Islam? Well, by the simple fact that you are not eating means that you have more time and, yes, at the time of the Prophet they used to review the book in its entirety during this time. Today, it is not possible, but it’s good to refresh your memory and to focus more on religious matters.
Is the mosque offering anything for non-Muslims during Ramadan? Sure, visits are allowed, and free meals are still offered to the labourers in Juffair in the month of Ramadan. As for non-Muslim visitors, the tours are pretty much the same.
In the past I’ve come to the mosque during Eid, when non-Muslims could come and see calligraphy and sample traditional food and learn about Islam in general. Are you going to do anything similar this year? Yes, this has been done for the past ten years. It’s usually the second and third days of Eid.
Is there any way that non-Muslims can experience the spirituality of Ramadan for themselves? I can’t see any middle way apart from experiencing fasting itself.
Maybe I’ll try it for a day, see how I go. You are judged according to your intentions. If somebody fasts without having the intention to comply with God’s rules, it’s meaningless! It’s useless! Some people may fast to lose weight, not to gain any credit with God. So it’s all about the intention.
How long have you been a Muslim? Officially, for the past 18 years.
Was it a family decision or your individual choice? No, it was very private. There are family members who are not even aware that I’m Muslim, back in France. It was not easy 18 years ago and I imagine it’s even more difficult nowadays, with everything that took place in the last 10 years. In Western countries, spirituality has a very different shape from what it used to have a century ago. But I think people still have questions about the meaning of life. So now, where do these people go to satisfy their thirst for spirituality? We can see some of them here in the Mosque in transit between Europe and India. They go to India to see gurus. It shows that the decline of the Church hasn’t erased the need for spirituality. For example, you have Buddhists, like... what’s his name? That famous heart-throb?
Richard Gere? Richard Gere! Buddhism is, the way I see it, very welcoming because you don’t have much ‘do and don’t’, you do pretty much what you like. So some people are looking to Buddhism, others are looking to these gurus – the need for spirituality is still there.
So you experienced Ramadan in France. How did you find it compared to here? It’s much easier here. Although the temperature is higher, the whole regime is adapted to it.
Claire Willats: Mums In Bahrain
How many Ramadans have you experienced? This is my second in Bahrain but with lots of Muslim friends at home I fasted for some of the time, because they were not eating and it felt rude to be scoffing!
Is Ramadan a spiritual time? How so? I think regardless of your religion it’s a wonderful time to slow down and take the time to reconnect to those you love and also the many people in need. Our pace of life is often so fast that we don’t see beyond our own wants and desires to what is really important in life. The best way I can explain it is that when I leave this life I will be thinking of all of the good I have achieved (I hope!) NOT how much money I made and if I spent hundreds of BD each week on designer shoes.
Is there anything you do differently during Ramadan? I tend to visit people more, speak to my family, and home cook more (which I rarely do normally).
What’s the most challenging aspect of Ramadan? Trying to stay away from the amazing evening buffets – I learnt my lesson last year!
What’s the one thing you hope to achieve during Ramadan this year? I would love to de-stress and to plan for the coming months. Also, a good house, wardrobe and lifestyle clean up is in order too, as everything seems to have come second to my long working hours.
Stephen J. Daniel: Al Safir Hotel and Tower
How many times have you experienced Ramadan in Bahrain? Almost 15 times
Is Ramadan a spiritual time for you? Yes, it is, as it is time for reflecting on ourselves and a time for sacrifice.
Is there anything you do differently during the month of Ramadan? Nothing in particular, since everything remains closed during the day. But, yes, I love visiting my Bahraini friends during the holy month and sharing their joy during Ramadan. It is a very happy feeling.
What’s the most challenging aspect of Ramadan for you? As mentioned earlier, reflecting on ourselves and sacrificing is certainly an aspect of the challenge. It isn’t an easy task, but with determination and with spiritual efforts we overcome the challenges.
What’s the one thing you hope to achieve during Ramadan this year? Give peace, bring peace and share peace.
Nina Tobias: Sevenleisure group
Have you experienced Ramadan before? This will be my 3rd Ramadan and I am pretty used to it by now.
What do you do differently during Ramadan? Nothing interesting, really. I have always wanted to try fasting, but I am usually so busy during this time that I have not had the opportunity yet. Also, I could really use a diet right now.
What’s the most challenging aspect of Ramadan? The fasting I guess. It’s really hard not to eat the whole day especially in this kind of climate!
What’s the one thing you hope to achieve during Ramadan this year? As always, good health...