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BY Azmat Haroon
A serious debate is raging in the Muslim community about what is the ‘right’ way of observing Ramadan.
While some attach ‘festivities’ and even ‘celebrations’ to this holy month, others vehemently oppose this attitude saying it is a month of austerity in which Muslims are expected to withdraw themselves from all worldly desires. Prayers and dhikr (remembrance of Allah) should remain at the heart of Ramadan as opposed to any other activity.
This is one reason why Muslims, who may not have been punctual with their prayers at other times, turn up at mosques and seek Allah’s forgiveness and practice religion with zeal and enthusiasm.
While the sanctity of Ramadan is observed throughout the Muslim world, the way it is marked in practice by Muslims has many cultural variations and accretions to it.
The spirit of Ramadan remains the same but its observances take different forms.
In the Middle East, the daily life of almost everyone turns around because all possible physical activities are moved to late evenings. Staying up late at night - often till Suhoor - and spending time with friends at souqs and sheesha joints at midnight becomes a common practice.
The scenario is no different in Qatar. One week before the holy month began, supermarkets and malls throughout the country saw a sudden influx of shoppers. Popular public places such as Souq Waqif and Katara had many youngsters coming together for coffee and ‘karak’- a version of Asian flavoured tea, after Isha (late evening) prayers.
Even beauty salons come up with special packages for facials and henna during Ramadan. Women have to make appointments well in advance in order to avail services because the salons become more packed during this month. Women apply henna on their hands more regularly in Ramadan as compared to other months of the year.
Then there are the ubiquitous ‘iftar parties’ which have a tendency of turning more lavish every year. The intake of food- surprisingly enough- also increases, resulting in many being hospitalised for overeating at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC). Many Muslims look down on these practices which defy the very spirit of Ramadan.
Muslims are expected to not only abstain from food and drinks during daylight, but they are also expected to reconnect with Allah, indulge in charitable deeds and practice self-sacrifice as a means to purify the soul.
“Fasting is supposed to help you disconnect with worldly desires and become more spiritual through praying,” says 24-year-old Ahmed Al Saleh, a student. The focus should remain solely on religion as opposed to cultural activities, he says.
Many people of his age, however, use the evening time when they are not fasting to do all the things which they have to refrain from during daytime- most popular of them being music and movies.
While some believe that all social activities should stop in Ramadan, others say there is nothing particularly wrong with attaching festivities to Ramadan. It serves as a means to promote Islam among the non-Muslim members of a community, they say. Through a series of activities especially planned for Ramadan, more awareness is created.
In line with this, Katara has organised the Ramadan Festival with events such as the Anasheed festival, which ended right before the first fasting day, along with Islamic arts exhibition and multiple educational programmes.
With the beginning of Ramadan, the number of people visiting Katara is expected to increase, says the president of the cultural village foundation, Abdulrahman Al Khulaifi.
On Thursday, the 2012 Ramadan exhibitions and activities were officially inaugurated at Katara.
Selections of the Islamic calligraphy from the Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani Museum are being exhibited at an outside venue for the very first time.
Along with Islamic exhibitions, works of international artists such as ‘Lightweeds’ by Simon Heijdens and an exhibition of unique clocks by Daniel Weil are also on display.
“We are trying to create a family-oriented environment here. We have Islamic lectures in different buildings, a prominent Imam for Taravih at the mosque. We also have special classes for children to learn the Quran,” says Khulaifi, while speaking of the Ramadan festival.
The idea is to try and capture the spirit of Ramadan and promote the Qatari culture, he maintains.
The month of fasting can be a cause of concern for many non-Muslims who are at times not sure about how to be respectful around people who are fasting. Majority of the eateries remain closed during daytime and many social activities come to a halt. Cinemas make a note of not releasing new movies during this month because of the fear of financial losses. An interesting case in point is the delay in the release of the “Dark Knight Rises”- the last instalment of the Batman series- which is being screened everywhere today except the Middle East and some other Muslim countries due to Ramadan.
With some of these cultural activities such as that at Katara, non-Muslims along with international artists who are visiting Qatar get a sense of Islam through cultural programmes.
“What I understand from being here is that this (Ramadan) has certain peacefulness about it, certain serenity is a primary part of it. I can imagine this as a time that you are more aware about everything,” says Heijdens, a visiting artist from Netherlands. He believes it to be a great coincidence that his lightweeds exhibition titled “The Garden of Contemplation” was inaugurated right before Ramadan in Qatar.
British artist Weil, on the other hand, connects this month as a spiritually introspective time.
“The clocks come from me and they are spiritual,” he says.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage H E Dr Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al Kuwari, who inaugurated the four exhibitions, said this is a very good beginning for the holy month.
“Most of the exhibitions (here) have a link between Arabic civilisation and fine arts. We started with Quranic calligraphy and this is one of the exhibitions being organised by the Iranians every year. We have the Arabian collections like the partnership with Sheikh Faisal’s museum, and we want to showcase the works of Qatari artists,” Al Kuwari said. The Peninsula