Ramadan drop-outs: the outlaws of the holy month

Published August 16th, 2012 - 12:57 GMT

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Jordanian police patrol at Ramadan look out for fasting offenders
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Image 1 of 11: Jordan has a handful of cafes that stay open during the fasting hours of the holy month and those who need to, usually make it their business to find them. Shops are open, but you are offered a black bag to conceal your illicit day time groceries. Drinking water in public carries a penalty or prison sentence. At best a ticking off by a policeman.

Iraq's restaurants at Ramadan
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Image 1 of 11: It's a typically strict time come Ramadan in Iraq, leaving out Muqtadā Ṣadr's fatwa that lets smokers fast with impunity. Once upon a time, eateries were cordoned off from sight, to allow Iraq's non-fasters, including Jews & Christians - to indulge. Today, a more conservative climate makes it taboo if not illegal to be seen drinking or eating.

Egypt
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Image 1 of 11: Egypt's tourist-friendly establishments stay open but otherwise the hustle bustle of heaving Cairo is significantly taken down a notch. Christians, or Copts, are denied alcohol based on their Egyptian nationality, while foreigners flashing a passport might be Muslim but are served a drink if they ask.

Saudi Arabia's conservative climate clamps down on Ramadan-violations
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Image 1 of 11: Saudi Arabia: This year the Kingdom issued reminders of the consequences of dodging the fast. Threatened with deportation if they do not respect the fast in public, expats in Saudi are tested for their staying power. Violations of Ramadan carry a high price for foreigners and locals alike.

Hamra stays alive for Ramadan in Lebanon
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Image 1 of 11: Lebanon - the laissez faire Ramadan, where anything goes: To fast or not to fast, the choice is yours entirely. Most of the country runs more or less as normal - catering to the fasting Muslims and the non-fasting Christians and the less observant locals who prefer to skip the fasting but attend the grand Iftar family meals all the same.

Yara
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Image 1 of 11: Earlier, it was reported that (Christian) Lebanese singer Yara was arrested for smoking in Algeria. Her driver shopped her when she wouldn't put out the offending cigarette. It transpired that this story was not true. Nevertheless it indicated the stiff enforcement in Algeria where public adherence to Ramadan's regulations is mandatory.

Syria's signature ice-cream in Souk El-Hamidiyeh, Damascus
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Image 1 of 11: Syria back in quieter times was known for being quite loose and easy in its approach to Ramadan. There were no stringent penalties for the public fasting flouters. The Levant in general allows the freedom for the Christian to go about business as usual (though culturally people are respectful of the fasting populace).

Morocco's picnic activists protest for the right to not fast Ramadan
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Image 1 of 11: Flouting a law stuck in the Moroccan penal code, Article 222, that penalizes public eating if 'commonly known to be Muslim', a small group of 'picnic' protestors bit back 2 years ago with a campaign "Ma saymeensh" (We're not fasting). A counter campaign hit back with the reactionary: "Saymeen wa Musilmeen" (We're fasting and we're Muslim).

Sports bar Qatar: Championships Bar closes for Ramadan
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Image 1 of 11: Qatar: While the jagged peninsula emirate is not a dry Gulf state in the way of Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, come Ramadan it dries up. The known expat hotel based bars shut altogether and day time food purchases are off-limits. You'll not want to be caught chewing or sipping on anything publicly, if you're foreign or worse still, local or local-like.

Borkeiba street, Tunisia observes Ramadan
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Image 1 of 11: Tunisia: The Arab Spring birthplace can be identified along with the Levant as more easy-going about the non-observing members of society. However under Islamist rule, locals say they are feeling the pinch of a shifting climate, and while those who want food can get it, it's probably not wise to flash it in public.

Dubai's restaurants close the curtains at Ramadan
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Image 1 of 11: Dubai: Behind the curtains, people can still eat and drink. After Iftar, even wine flows in the usual haunts. The concession to the fasting month is that food courts in malls will serve food out of plain sight, so that punters from a population of majority foreigners are sealed off with a partition or curtain while they indulge.

While the holy month of Ramadan appeals to the masses of Muslims who draw much spiritual strength for the year to come, the season is slightly tougher on the non-practicing minority of Middle East dwellers who refrain from the fast. Expatriates and non-Muslim natives to the region have to find alternative ways to subsist without upsetting their Muslim neighbors.

Smokers must either put the lid on their habit, or have a crafty fag away from plain sight. And those who must snack are more often found grazing in the restrooms.

The Middle East region presents varying challenges to these Ramadanvictims, who are either not required to partake or who chose to opt out of their religious obligations. Come Ramdan time, where do the non-compliant or failed fasters go?

Some countries are freer toward their non-fasting dwellers, like the Levant. Lebanon and Syria are not known for imposing Ramadan on the non-faithful. Business continues as usual with refreshments readily available. Other spots are stricter. The Arabian Gulf and also North Africa and Jordan enforce stiffer regulations for public observance. You may eat, but on pain of fines, prison or even flogging.

Al Bawaba's cross-section of the Arab world's approaches toward Ramadan - from the strictest to the more lenient and free-fasting. A sneak look behind the fast, at the misfits of Ramadan.

Just food for thought!

 

Have your say. Are Muslim majority countries harsh when it comes to applying Ramadan on their non-Muslim residents? Should it be down to the 'guests' as well non-Muslim Arabs to respect their Muslim communities by displaying appropriate sensitivity? Does this need to be enforced by law?

 

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