Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Public eating banned in daytime Ramadan

It is always an additional culture shock (piled on top of the already sizeable back-in-the-Middle East culture shock) when returning to Iraq after the long summer holiday as the country is usually already well into Ramadan, the month of fasting. People are grumpy, work slowly and try to go home early if possible, shops keep unusual hours, women who normally do not wear hijab are headscarfed... and you have to search harder to find restaurants that are open. On the plane on the way back to Hawler, I picked up a newspaper and this was he first thing I saw:


The Iraqi Ministry of Interior on Wednesday announced that it will ban eating in public places and close down restaurants and food stalls during daytime hours in the holy month of Ramadan. "Concerned authorities should take necessary actions against the violators," according to a ministerial statement received by Aswat al-Iraq- Voices of Iraq- (VOI). The statement noted that all liquor stores will be closed down during the holy month. All restaurants and food stalls will be closed down from sunrise to sunset, with the exception of those inside factories, as well as student, first-class and tourist restaurants, the statement explained. Cafés are also included in the ban, the statement noted.

Ramadan is a Muslim religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, believed to be the month in which the Qur'an began to be revealed. It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which Muslims don't eat or drink anything from sunrise untill sunset. Fasting is meant to teach the person patience and humility. Many scholars are of the view that competing in sports or exercise should be refrained during the daylight hours since it causes one to be more thirsty, and thus, less patient. Most people who keep fasts choose to exercise in the night after the fasts are broken.



Understandably, I was worried as I thought about how much harder this ban will make this year's return. No restaurants open during the day... NO ALCOHOL!!! That meant no late afternoon cocktail hour on my balcony.... and I thought I was living in a "secular" region.

Well, today is the beginning of Eid. Ramadan ends today and while everyone has been talking about how we are not aloud to eat or smoke on the street this year, I think the Iraqi ban had no effect on us here in "Kurdistan". We do not seen to fall under Iraqi laws at all as several of us went for lunches at Bakery & More... and with the restaurant on the second floor, there weren't even sheets on the window. At 10:00 am in Ainkawa (granted this is a Christian enclave) the only shop already open was a liquor shop! Anyway, this year was the first year I really participated in anything Eid-like. Last night we had a house full of non-practicing Muslims from Turkey who spent the night eating and drinking... and then before leaving, they taught me how to kiss all my elders' hands and press them to my forhead before asking for Eid money. I think my Turkish friends/neighbors are on their way down now for theirs!

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