Breakfast at night

Other Eyes and Ears – Vol.5

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Seconded to the Saudi capital of Riyadh while working for a trading company, I got an appointment with a client whose office was in the souk (marketplace). Asked to “come at 11”, I duly turned up at 11 am on the day arranged, only to find the shops all shuttered, and the souk deserted. What on earth was going on, I wondered suspiciously. Later it transpired that I’d actually been told to come at 11 pm. .

The reason: my visit just happened to coincide with the month of Ramadan according to the Islamic calendar. During Ramadan Muslims fast in the hours of daylight, eating nothing. The most devout do not even swallow their own saliva, preferring to spit all over the place.

According to the Koran, the Muslim holy book which sets out absolute precepts for living, Ramadan is the sacred month in which the Prophet Muhammad first received revelations from Allah. As the most blessed month of the year, it is much anticipated..

The aforementioned market reopens at sunset, extended families gathering at the shops to eat and drink (though no alcohol, of course)in party-like fashion. In some cases, the festivities continue through the night..

Which means that the next day, people are groggy from too much eating and not enough sleep. And because they eat much more than usual, paradoxically this month of fasting often becomes a month of expanding waistlines.

Apparently some are sensibly exempted from the fasting requirement, including travelers, people performing heavy manual labor, pregnant women, women in labor, invalids, and children..

The remarkable Egyptian sumo wrestler Osunaarashi is a Muslim. During Ramadan he refrains from eating during the day. I suppose sumo could be classed as “heavy labor”, but Osunaarashi, originally a sportsman, has always adhered faithfully to his religion’s teachings on the matter of Ramadan, and is said to be perfectly OK with the fasting, describing it as “all part of the training”..

The end of Ramadan is a celebration to rival Obon and New Year combined, paid for by the wealthiest and most successful member of the family: a manifestation of the patriarchal nature of Muslim society, and also perhaps a form of social welfare: a way of redistributing income.

You may think breakfast should be eaten in the morning, but no, this “breaking of the fast” reaches its pinnacle at nighttime. Engaging in business talks in what was virtually the middle of the night gave me insight into yet another way in which cultures can differ.

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