Ramadan drop-outs: the outlaws of the holy month

Published July 12th, 2015 - 09:47 GMT

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Jordan has a few cafes that stay open during fasting hours, but business hours generally shorten and shops are open - you'll be given a black bag to conceal your illicit daytime groceries. Drinking water in public carries a penalty, infrequently enforced but likely to get you harsh words from policemen.
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Image 1 of 11: Jordan has a few cafes that stay open during fasting hours, but business hours generally shorten and shops are open - you'll be given a black bag to conceal your illicit daytime groceries. Drinking water in public carries a penalty, infrequently enforced but likely to get you harsh words from policemen.

Ramadan in Iraq,- is uber-strict, 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.
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Image 1 of 11: Ramadan in Iraq,- is uber-strict, 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's tourist-friendly establishments stay open but otherwise the hustle of heaving Cairo is taken down a notch. Christians, or Copts, are denied alcohol based on their Egyptian nationality, while foreigners (even Muslims!) flashing a passport are served drinks if they ask.
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Image 1 of 11: Egypt's tourist-friendly establishments stay open but otherwise the hustle of heaving Cairo is taken down a notch. Christians, or Copts, are denied alcohol based on their Egyptian nationality, while foreigners (even Muslims!) flashing a passport are served drinks if they ask.

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.
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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.

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.
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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.

Earlier, it was reported that (Christian) Lebanese singer Yara was arrested for smoking in Algeria. Her driver stopped her when she wouldn't put out the offending cigarette. It turned out that this story wasn't true, but it's a cautionary tale regarding Algeria's stiff enforcement where public adherence to Ramadan's regulations is mandatory.
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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 stopped her when she wouldn't put out the offending cigarette. It turned out that this story wasn't true, but it's a cautionary tale regarding Algeria's stiff enforcement where public adherence to Ramadan's regulations is mandatory.

Syria back in quieter times was known for being quite loose and easy in its approach to Ramadan. There were no harsh penalties for the public fasting flouters. The Levant in general allows the freedom for Christians to go about business as usual (though culturally people are respectful of the fasting populace).
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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 harsh penalties for the public fasting flouters. The Levant in general allows the freedom for Christians to go about business as usual (though culturally people are respectful of the fasting populace).

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 a few years ago with a campaign 'Ma saymeensh' (We're not fasting). A reactionary campaign hit back with 'Saymeen wa Musilmeen' (We're fasting and we're Muslim).
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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 a few years ago with a campaign "Ma saymeensh" (We're not fasting). A reactionary campaign hit back with "Saymeen wa Musilmeen" (We're fasting and we're Muslim).

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.
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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.

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.
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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: 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.
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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.

This post first appeared on Albawaba website in Ramadan 2012

The holy month of Ramadan appeals to masses of Muslims who draw spiritual strength for the year ahead, but the season is sensitive for the non-practicing minority who refrain from the fast. Expats and non-Muslims across the Middle East must find alternative ways to behave without upsetting their fasting friends and families. Come Ramadan, where do the non-compliant or failed fasters go?

The Middle East does challenge those who are either not required to partake or who opt out of their religious obligations. Smokers should put their habit on hiatus, or stealthy light up away from plain sight.  Snackers can avoid aggravating fasters by politely tucking away in restrooms or their cars. 

Some regions are freer toward their non-fasting population. Lebanon and Syria don't impose Ramadan on the non-faithful, business continues as usual and food is readily available. Other spots are stricter. The Arabian Gulf and North Africa enforce stiffer regulations for public observance. You may eat, but with punishment of fines, prison or even flogging.

Check out Al Bawaba's cross-section of the Arab world's approaches toward Ramadan - from the strictest to the more lenient and free-fasting. It's a sneak peek behind the fast - food for thought!

Have your say. Are Muslim-majority countries too harsh when it comes to applying Ramadan on their non-Muslim residents? Should foreigners as well non-Muslim Arabs respect their Muslim communities by displaying appropriate sensitivity? And should this be legally enforced?

 

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