FAQs, dos, don’ts and general info about the Holy Month
Time Out Bahrain staff
What is Ramadan? It’s the Holy Month in the Islamic Calendar, where Muslims fast from sunup to sundown for approximately 30 days. The dates move around, judged by the placement of the sun and moon. The start and end of Ramadan will be declared the day before.
Do I have to be Muslim to partake? Not at all! Particularly in Bahrain, many iftars and suhoors are geared as a way to bring the entire community together. Even if you’re not fasting, you are still welcome.
What’s iftar? Iftar is the meal to break the fast after sunset. Typically, people will eat traditional small food like dates, dried apricots and Ramadan juices, before heading to evening prayer. After that, large meals are the norm, usually with family and friends. Traditional foods in Bahrain include barbecue, biryiani rice and whole roasted animals like lamb and sometimes, rumour has it, baby camels. In Bahrain, big spreads of Lebanese mezze and international dishes are also popular, with many hotels offering sprawling buffets.
What is suhoor? Suhoor is a meal taken just before sunrise, before the day of fasting starts. It often takes the form of a fun party starting just after iftar and gabgha. Many hotels host smaller buffets, entertainment and more to celebrate until the wee hours of the morning.
What is Eid and why are there two? Eid al Fitr and Eid Al-Adha are two celebrations at the end of Ramadan. Eid al Fitr translates as the ‘festival of breaking the fast’, and happens immediately after Ramadan, with day-time feasts (and in Bahrain the return of brunch). Family and friends gather in their best clothes and go visiting baring gifts - expect traffic to increase in the days leading up to this, as people hurry to get new clothes, haircuts, henna and procure all the sweets and ingredients for their feasts plus buys presents – lots of the shops and car showrooms have amazing deals around this time. There’s also a charitable obligation, to make sure the poor in the community have enough food to celebrate themselves. Eid Al Adha translates as the ‘festival of sacrifice’, and that’s just what it is: traditionally, animals like sheep and goats are slaughtered. It’s roughly 70 days after the end of Ramadan and celebrates the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. It’s required to do the slaughtering (or at least witness) yourself, so expect to see live animals in the back of trucks all over the island – it’s often seen as a rite of passage for Muslim boys to participate. One third of the meat is kept for the family, another third is giving to friends and relatives and the last third is given to the needy. Each holiday typically lasts three days, so expect shops and businesses to be closed for at least some of the period.
Ramadan Dos and Don’ts
DON’T smoke, drink, chew gum or eat in public during daylight hours. It’s offensive and flagrant flaunting of the rules could also get you a warning from the police or even result in you spending the rest of the month in jail. Public places include your office or workplace, elevators, hallways and even your car.
DON’T dance or sing in public at any time. Not that you should have many opportunities – there’ll be no live music gigs.
DON’T expect to have the kind of blow-out clubbing weekends you might be used to. All bars and nightclubs will be closed for the duration of the month. Also, outlets will refrain from serving alcohol including restaurants and hotels. In addition, transporting alcohol or being intoxicated in public during Ramadan is a no-no and carries even steeper penalties than usual if caught.
DON’T play loud music at any time in your car, around town or even at home. Ramadan is a contemplative time and if it’s audible, it may offend.
DO be a good neighbor both at home and at work. If you’re not fasting, be respectful and patient with those that are – whether it’s being quiet or putting off cooking up that pungent curry lunch in the office microwave.
DON’T wear revealing or tight clothes in public, even when you’re heading out for the evening. Make sure your shoulders and knees are covered, even on men during Ramadan.
DON’T blaspheme or swear in public. Doing so is frowned on at the best of times, of course, but during the month of Ramadan it’s particularly insulting.
DO listen to your iPod if you want your music fix – so long as the music is inaudible to others you should be ok.
DO make the most of the community spirit and food to be found in the iftar tents at the city’s hotels. It’s a great opportunity to relax, play games and experience traditional Arabic entertainment.
DO eat at home before heading out for the night – restaurants and tents will be packed.
DO drive carefully – this time of year fender benders are rampant as people hurry home for iftar or drive while tired and hungry. Be extra cautious to arrive safely.
DO get into the spirit of giving. Muslims are required to give to charity at this time of year, with a focus on the needs of their own communities. Many worthy organisations both here and abroad set up special drives or events to make giving even easier. It’s a great tradition to be a part of! (See part two of the guide in August for some great local initiatives.)
DO enjoy the traditional music on offer though. Many venues will have Arabic oud players and whirling dervish dancers to entertain you, so while it’s not a DJ at a club, it’s still a fascinating experience.
Keeping busy fasting or not
Marriott Lots of the hotels will have one or two outlets open all day for non-Muslim guests and those who may be fasting. One of our favourites is Skyw@lk Cafe at the Marriott Executive Apartments in Juffair. There’s a great buffet all day long with a wide choice of foods with a Mediterranean bent and delicious deserts plus free WiFi so you can while away the baking daytime hours in convivial surroundings. There’s also a rather good and reasonably-priced iftar offering. (Call 17 363 999).
Making a splash Lost Paradise of Dilmun will be open during Ramadan. They haven’t decided the opening hours yet but last year timings were adjusted to 2pm-2am so there’s still time for a watery fun ride fix and there’s iftar and shisha too. Check out www.lpodwaterpark.com for announcements. Call (17 845 100).
Visit the Grand Mosque Every year Bahrain’s Grand Mosque, one of the biggest in the world, welcomes thousands of visitors. It’s open throughout the Holy Month, except on Fridays, with cultural and religious demonstrations, offerings of special foods and friendly, very knowledgeable guids who can tell you more about the origins of Islam and Ramadan, the mosque itself and much more. Entrance is free but check for Ramadan timings. Try shisha Ramadan wouldn’t be Ramadan without shisha. Try it at Corners in Adliya. So authetic there’s no phone.
Just the Facts
When is Ramadan? From July 15/20 to August 15/20, to be confirmed
When is Eid al Fitr? Between August 15/20, for three days, to be confirmed
When is Eid Al-Adha? On or around October 25/30, to be confirmed
Ramadan Hours The government regulates working hours during Ramadan. Although it often varies by industry, many will have different working hours during the Holy Month. The same goes for shopping malls, shops, grocery stores, cinemas and more. Double check times before you head out to avoid disappointment!
Gergoan Celebrate on the 15th day of Ramadan with Bahrain’s own children’s holiday! Children don traditional clothes (embroidered vests and caps for boys and embroidered veils and dresses for girls) and head out to collect sweets, nuts and coins in special cloth bags, while singing traditional Gergoan songs. Many venues, compounds, companies and schools will host their own special Gergoan events and shops and supermarkets often offer specially decorated party packs and baskets decorated with popular cartoon characters.