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A Ramadan guide for first-time expatriates

By Nebal Snan

KUWAIT: On March 23, the world marked the first day of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. For 29 or 30 days, depending on the lunar calendar, practicing Muslims around the world refrain from eating, drinking and smoking from sunrise to sunset — yes, even water is off limits. The act of piety and sacrifice is meant to strengthen their relationship with God.

While the worship aspect is more or less the same for all Muslims observing Ramadan, different communities have distinct cultural rituals they uphold during the month. If you’re new in Kuwait, some of these traditions may leave you confused, or even dumbfounded. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered: Here’s our attempt to demystify some of the confusing situations you might come across in Kuwait during Ramadan.

You can’t eat, either

You’re not fasting and you feel hungry, but you’re in a public place; do you eat? Well, the answer is no. Eating or drinking in public between dawn and sunset is illegal in Kuwait, even if you’re not Muslim. If you’re caught, you face a maximum fine of KD 100 and/or a maximum one month in prison.

Free food for all

Picture this: A car pulls up at the entrance of your favorite coop. Someone steps out of the vehicle and begins calling passers-by to come grab one of the many rectangular boxes in his open trunk. What’s going on, you might ask? That person is distributing boxes of pre-packed hot meals – it’s also probably the only time when it’s safe to get an opaque box from a stranger’s car. The boxes typically contain food you would eat to break your fast: rice and meat, water, dates, a yogurt drink and a vegetable stew. Anyone is welcome to get a box, regardless of nationality, race, socioeconomic status or religion.

Closer to iftar time, it’s not uncommon for strangers to hand out water and dates at traffic lights. Some parents set up free-water-and-date stands with their children at street corners within residential areas. Don’t feel taken-aback if you find yourself getting approached by a stranger who gives you an envelope of money. The gesture is one of many acts of generosity displayed by Muslims in Kuwait during the holy month.

KUWAIT: Muslim worshippers line up to receive iftar meals, donated by a charity, in Mahboula, south of Kuwait City in this file photo. Food distribution campaigns, a common feature during the holy month of Ramadan in Kuwait, returned in full force this year after disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why the long lines?

It’s ironic that food is the running theme in a Ramadan list. But socially, the month has become synonymous with hours-long gatherings over a full course meal — and inevitably overconsumption. This explains the uptick in campaigns asking people not to waste food during Ramadan. It’s also the reason behind the extra-long lines at your favorite restaurants or grocery stores. You will notice that certain types of food surge in popularity during the month, such as samosas, lentil soup, tashreeb and one infamous deep purple berry drink.

Watch out for road rage

Although Ramadan is all about patience, the way many people behave during the month could leave you scratching your head. One thing to look out for is the blatant disregard of all driving rules, especially during the last hour before Maghreb prayers. If you’ve driven in Kuwait — or commuted as a passenger — you probably know that road etiquette is close to non-existent. But the closer you’re driving to the time people break their fast, the more you’re likely to encounter road rage and drivers zigzagging through traffic. So be extra careful.

Counterintuitive slacking

You might be surprised to find that some of your Muslim colleagues are not putting in their best effort at work, despite the emphasis Islam puts on self-discipline in Ramadan. Unfortunately, it’s become somewhat socially accepted for people to slack during the month, with many demanding that it becomes mandated as a holiday. The opposite is also true for some people who make it a point to work harder during the month for larger spiritual rewards or to distract them away from their cravings.

A night owl’s haven

If you’re a night owl, Ramadan will become your favorite time of the year. Most, if not all, shops and restaurants stay open past midnight. The ambiance at night, especially towards the end of the month, is always lively. Crowded streets and shopping centers are a trademark for this time of the year, with many people choosing to do their Eid shopping last-minute.

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