On Sunday night, many Omanis settled down in front of Oman TV and waited for the moon-sighting committee’s verdict on whether Monday would mark the first day of the holy month of fasting or not. A little after 8pm, Ramadan was announced and thousands of congratulatory text messages flew back and forth between family members, colleagues and friends.
While astronomers can accurately confirm when the new crescent moon will be visible, Muslims prefer to be guided by a committee of Muslim scholars. The committee predicts when and where the crescent will be sighted, but the holy month of Ramadan only begins once the new moon has been spotted by the naked eye.
In time for Ramadan, the annual Salalah Tourism Festival ended a few days ago with a bang, and the last of the lavish local weddings took place on Thursday. Monsoon rains continue to fall as temperatures hover between 24 and 27°C.
Population-wise, it looks like many of the tourists aren’t going anywhere during Ramadan. According to an article I read recently, thousands of tourists from the GCC have booked their hotels and apartments in Salalah for Ramadan.
I suppose it makes a lot of sense to fast here this year. The days are shorter and unlike the rest of the GCC, the weather in Salalah is beautiful at this time of year.
Meanwhile on the local front, the classic mountains of Ramadan food are on display at all the major supermarkets to accommodate the needs of families who tend to eat exactly the same things year after year. Women spend hours in the kitchen everyday preparing an endless array of dishes to break the fast at sunset, most of which will be tossed out at the end of the night. Believe it or not, many people end up gaining weight during Ramadan, even though they fast for nearly 14 hours every day.
Ramadan is supposed to be a month of religious reflection, self-restraint and charity. However, for many Omanis, the holy month of fasting has become a month of sleeping all day, watching television and eating all night to avoid feeling any discomfort while fasting.
Many smokers I know take annual leave during Ramadan and sleep all day as well, to avoid the effects of nicotine withdrawal. Again, this totally contradicts the true spirit of the month. Sure, we pray, read the Q'uran and go to Taraweeh prayers at the mosque every night, but that doesn’t make up for all the unhealthy habits we maintain and all the time and food we waste.
I visited the Oman Charitable Organisation (OCO) donation camp in Salalah with my sister a couple of nights ago. As most of you know, the UN officially declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia a little under two weeks ago. This is the first time a famine has been declared by the UN in nearly 30 years.
Tens of thousands of people have died in the past few weeks, and humanitarian response to the crisis has been delayed by severe lack of funding. Of the nearly US$2bn that has been requested by humanitarian organisations, barely US$1bn has been committed.
The aim of the OCO campaign is to help in any way they can by providing food and funding for victims of the famine. The camp set up next to Aqeel Mosque in eastern Salalah – will remain open throughout the month of Ramadan.
They accept dry goods such as rice, noodles and milk powder for babies. Blankets, sheets and clothes that are in good condition are also accepted.
Instead of wasting time and food during Ramadan, get in touch with the organisation’s headquarters in Muscat or their camp in Salalah and see how you can help. Getting involved with something like that would truly bring out the spirit of Ramadan, don’t you think? Ramadan Kareem!
Susan Mubarak is a Salalah-based HR professional in the private sector. She is an avid reader and writer, and enjoys photography and travelling. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org