What Is Ramadan?
Ramadan is considered the most holy month by Muslims worldwide. It takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. This calendar follows the lunar system, so the dates of Ramadan vary each year, usually moving back a week or so each year on the western calendar.
In order to observe Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunup until sundown. During daylight hours, they do not eat or drink anything. This is a very special, spiritual time for most Muslims. In addition to fasting, they spend time reading the Qur’an (Islam’s holy book), praying, and helping those less fortunate in their communities.
Ramadan is a time to cleanse oneself from worldly things and focus completely on one’s faith. Muslims refrain from listening to music, using bad language, and smoking. In many public places in Oman, recordings of the Qur’an take the place of background music, which can make something as simple as buying snacks at the supermarket a cultural experience.
What Is Ramadan Like For Muslims?
Imagine having Christmas every day for an entire month. That’s the way Muslims anticipate the month of Ramadan. It is a joyful time of spiritual devotion and family connection. Many Muslims consider Ramadan to be their favorite time of year.
Ramadan is one of the five pillars of the Muslim faith. The other four are: taking a pilgrimage to Mecca, giving money to the poor, saying the Shahadah (the Muslim profession of faith), and praying five times a day. Because Ramadan holds such an important place in the Muslim religion, it is also an important month in Oman.
All Muslims in Oman observe Ramadan except young children, pregnant or nursing mothers, soldiers on duty, those traveling, and those with medical conditions that prevent them from fasting. Those who cannot fast during Ramadan will usually try to make up the days later in the year, as they are able.
Children start fasting at different ages. Some families will allow children to fast a few hours a day to get used to the practice before committing to a full day. Usually the child decides when he/she wants to begin fasting. By adolescence, children will be required to fast like the adults.
A Different Daily Schedule
A Muslim’s daily schedule changes greatly during Ramadan. Although they may still go to work in the morning, many businesses take the whole month of Ramadan off, or change their hours so they are open in the evenings only. If they don’t have to work, many Omanis will sleep until late in the day during Ramadan.
The women will get up and start cooking in the afternoon. They make a variety of special food that is only enjoyed during Ramadan. By the time the sun is reaching the horizon, the air smells delicious and the streets are empty as everyone is home, waiting to break their fasts.
The minute the sun sets, mosques all around the city start sounding the call to prayer. Muslims will break their fast with water and dates, stop to pray their evening prayers, and then return to start feasting with their families.
This evening meal, called iftar, is a special experience unique to Ramadan. If you are invited into an Omani’s home for this meal, don’t pass up the opportunity! It will be a party to remember.
After breaking the fast, cities in Oman come to life! Streets that were quiet and empty all day will be filled with cars of people traveling to visit each other, go shopping, or walk along beaches and through parks. There is an energy in the air during Ramadan that feels truly festive.
What Is Ramadan Like For Visitors?
During the days of Ramadan, Oman is very quiet. Life is much slower this time of year, which brings peaceful relaxation to visitors. It can be the perfect time to explore Oman’s beaches and natural attractions in solitude.
Eating and drinking in public is illegal in Oman during Ramadan. Non-Muslim guests can enjoy meals in their hotels or out in nature away from the view of local people. It may be difficult to find restaurants open during the day. Keeping some snacks hidden in a day pack will help if you don’t find food for sale along the way.
Omanis know that visitors will not be fasting and sometimes they may offer you food or tell you it’s okay to eat or drink in front of them. It’s best to wait for that invitation before eating, drinking, or chewing gum in Oman during daylight in Ramadan.
You will find most Omanis to be their usual, friendly selves during Ramadan, but sometimes local people can be tired after long nights of feasting and being with family. Don’t be offended if an Omani seems a bit grumpy with you during the day. You would be, too, in their shoes!
Most restaurants and hotels offer iftar buffets during Ramadan which are an excellent way to sample the special foods of this holiday. Some supermarkets will give dates and yogurt drinks or water to shoppers at the time of sunset.
If you don’t mind staying up later than usual, Oman is an exciting place to explore after dark during Ramadan. Stores and streets are decorated, public places are teeming with life, and everyone is wishing each other a happy Ramadan.
The End of Ramadan
The month of Ramadan ends with a four-day celebration called Eid Al Fitr. Many businesses will be closed a few days prior and during this holiday and most locals will be traveling. It is important to have your own local travel plans made well in advance because of this.
Life in Oman goes back to normal relatively quickly after the end of Ramadan, but if you choose to come during this month, your memories of the season will likely stay with you for a lifetime.
By Shanae Eddy
Shanae is a freelance writer from the USA. She has lived in Salalah, Oman since 2015. When not writing content for Experience It Oman, Shanae enjoys learning Arabic from local friends, exploring the Dhofar mountains during Khareef (monsoon season), and drinking tea.