Children under twelve and the sick do not have to fast. If giving birth during Ramadan women may abstain from fasting for two weeks but should make up this time later. People who are allowed to eat and drink during Ramadan may not do so in public. Opening times for government offices and for shops are restricted, with daytime activities being mostly avoided. During Ramadan no bills may be collected. This goes for private businesses as well state-owned ones. For example a telephone company can only bar a line on account of an unpaid bill when Ramadan is over.
Life takes place at night. Then one meets with neighbours, friends and acquaintances for great feasts to which each brings a dish. Youths play football or volleyball until midnight on the numerous small floodlit sports grounds. People pray together in the mosque and afterwards sit outdoors conversing. In Oman Ramadan is a time for communication, for renewing old acquaintances and for forming new ones. Attention is not concentrated on daily work but on one’s fellow man. Before dawn breaks, usually between three and four in the morning, the suhur, or night meal, is eaten alone.
The 27th night of Ramadan is the “Night of Power” (laylat al qadr), the night when, by an act of revelation, Mohammed received the first verses of the Quran from Allah. Prayer is especially effective on this day. According to tradition and to the Quran itself, God counts the “Night of Power” as more than a thousand months so on this date one prays even more than in the rest of Ramadan.
The first day of the month following Ramadan, Shewal, is the Eid al-Fitr, also known as the “little festival”, and signifies the end of the fasting period. In many Islamic countries Eid al-Fitr has the same social significance as Christmas in traditional Christian countries and is usually celebrated for three days. Many travel to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to go shopping in style.
The children receive presents from their parents (but not vice versa!), there are great celebrations and people wish one another “Eid mubarak” – a blessed festival.
On the ninth of Dhu al-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar, the “big festival” begins, the Eid al-Adha which represents the day when Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son in the name of God. The festival follows much the same course as the “little festival” but goes on for a week and is the traditional time for inner reflection and the pilgrimage to Mecca.
During festival times especially, everyone should show support for the poor and the needy. This form of voluntary charity (sadaqah) – the amount of which the individual decides for himself – is in addition to the compulsory donations of zakat and sadaqat al-Fitr, the proceeds of which benefit the poor and needy at the time of Eid al-Fitr. The zakat (literally purification) is a duty for every Muslim believer who has more than a certain level of wealth, and is up to 10% of annual income. This ancient form of social security is based on the Islamic injunction of brotherhood. At the same time the property of the rich is “purified” of that part to which it is not entitled according to the will of the Quran. The co-ordination and distribution of the alms is dealt with by the prayer and congregation leaders in the mosques, the imams as well as the Ministry for Islamic Affairs and Justice. They advise as to who can be helped and what form this assistance should take. The donations often consist of long-lasting foodstuffs such as rice, fat, sugar and salt which are then given in large quantities direct to the recipient by the donor. The needy could be large families with low incomes or families that have got into difficulties through accident or illness.
Because of the enormous social importance of zakat it belongs to the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars of Islam are:
- shahada, the belief in the one true God;
- salat, the prayer ritual to be performed five times a day;
- zakat, giving alms to the poor;
- sawm, fasting during Ramadan and
- hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Excerpt from OMAN (www.oman.de) - the travel guide by Georg Popp, Arabia Felix Synform GmbH