No other occasion is ideal to experience Oman's multi-cultural facet than Iftar meetings during the Holy Month of Ramadan. It is the time when mosques and public places spring to life as the faithful, who keep themselves away from food and water from dawn to dusk, assemble to break the fast, sharing food, sitting across the same mat.
Tranquility is the hallmark of these meetings, as the faithful immerse in intense prayers to purify themselves spiritually, mentally and physically during the blessed month.
Expatriates feel that it is a unique Omani phenomenon that makes Ramadan more enjoyable here than at their home countries. Reduced working hours and friendly Iftar parties are the other major factors that force them to stay in the Sultanate during the Holy Month. As Ramadan moves towards its culmination, expatriates from various countries share their unique experiences with Hi Weekly.
Aisha delos Reyes (Philippines)
Office Manager, WALS Energy
I am not a born Muslim, and never got an opportunity to eat Iftar dinner in my home country, Philippines. But I began experiencing the bliss of the Holy Month after I came to Oman. Here, Ramadan is peaceful and enjoyable. I am fortunate to have plenty of friends who invite me to their homes for delicious Iftar dinners. However, I must say that, in terms of family values and sharing food, one cannot find any differences between Oman and Philippines.
Iftar delicacies in Oman are quite different from the traditional Filipino cuisines. Those who are fasting in Philippines cannot find dates and laban, the two most essential food items for Iftar everywhere, as only a few stores sell them. But I never felt that I missed Filipino delicacies here in the Sultanate. Whenever I yearned for it, I prepare it at home or go to any of the Filipino restaurants.
Being a woman who has been fasting for the last four years (I am living in Oman for 10 years), I must say that it is a blissful experience. Many of my non-Muslim Filipino friends are concerned how I could fast, as I keep away from food and water from dawn to dusk. But I try to explain to them that fasting is not just about saying no to food. It's about getting closer to Allah. One has to abstain from sin, contemplate and cleanse spiritually, mentally and physically. You need to adhere to the religious principles.
Amjid Ali (Pakistan)
Group IT Manager, Al Saleh Group of Companies
The month for self purification witnesses a host of social events in Oman. Citizens are more compassionate, caring, kind and grateful and everybody can experience this in all parts of the country, be it in office, roads, supermarkets or mosques. That is why I wish to spend Ramadan in Oman than my home country. I really feel proud to be in Oman where everyone respects and cares for each other. It is the time of the year when supermarkets offer special prices on commodities and it makes a lot of difference in the lives of the consumers.
I never felt like I am living in another country as all the varieties of food, which we use for Suhoor and Iftar are easily available here. I love to combine traditional Pakistani cuisines with Omani coffee, Halwa, Mutabbal, Hummoos and Hammour, my favourite fish.
I strongly believe in Ramadan's social appeal. It is a pleasure to see the Iftar arrangements in mosques and other public places where hundreds of people break their dawn to dusk fast together. I also had Iftar with my friends and office colleagues. The Tarawih prayer time is another avenue to boost brotherhood. Employers do care for their staff during the Holy Month. With the shortened work hours, I get more time for prayers and make necessary arrangements for Iftar.
Fahim Firfiray (United Kingdom)
Leadership Development Trainer, Petroleum Development Oman
Ramadan in my home country means a great community spirit, as friends and family gather at the time of Iftar and Tarawih prayers. But Ramadan is observed on a bigger scale here in Oman. It is really nice to see so many people at the Masjid in the evening worshipping their Creator. I also love to see plenty of people reciting Quran in the mosques.
England is famously multi-cultural, and hence we get a wide variety of food, including Indian, Pakistani, Turkish and Arabic. Oman, too, offers many culinary delights, though the emphasis tends to be on chicken and rice. These days, I eat very light at Iftar. I prefer pakodas, somosas and small grilled items. Earlier, I used to eat a lot of rice and I found myself feeling very sleepy during Tarawih prayers.
I eat light Suhoor in the morning. Since it is very hot outside, I do drink lots of water. Fasting has been going on well. Since I don't have distraction towards food, I am able to move much more speedily and complete my work quickly.
This year, I've also been spending more time at the gym during fasting hours. Rather than feeling exhausted, as you might expect, it has been the opposite. I feel energetic, healthier and much more focused and positive.
Fawwaz Aminuddin (Malaysia)
Head of Business Development, Amanie Advisors
This is for the first time that I am spending long hours keeping the Ramadan fast. Being a relatively newcomer to Oman, I feel that the Holy Month is all about peace and tranquility all over the country, despite the scorching heat outside.
It is a delight to take part in the public Iftars in mosques, where people belonging to different nationalities sit across a mat and share the food when the muezzin calls out Maghrib prayers. It shows unity and harmony, which is a reflection of generosity among the brothers in the society. I always find it happy to see that mosques never face shortage of food, thanks to the generosity of well-wishers.
Ramadan days are longer and hotter in Oman, but my body adjusted to it within the first two days itself. Contrary to common perception, I believe that Ramadan is the most productive month in office. For, I need to concentrate only on my work, as I don't have to think about food and take coffee breaks.
At times, I miss my home country, where I can get different varieties of culinary delights during the Holy Month, which is a special occasion for food festivals. It is a treat to watch the Ramadan Bazaars that dot every residential area. The country with 13 different states offers a rich culinary culture. But my wife and I try to prepare Malaysian delicacies at home. We also invite friends to our home for Iftar.
Mehmed Zingal (Turkey)
General Manager, Turkish Airlines Inc.
Having assumed the office as the General Manager of Turkish Airlines Inc. just 50 days ago, I am experiencing my first Ramadan in Oman, one of the beautiful and peaceful countries in the Middle East. The biggest positive about this country is that it accommodates all the residents, and treats them on par with the citizens. Ramadan is quite enjoyable here as Omani friends invite me to their homes for Iftar, and I also take them to my home for breaking the fast. I must confess that I haven't seen such wonderful hosts as Omanis. Nobody can match their hospitality skills.
Oman is similar with Turkey on many counts. We get more dates and sweets in Turkey during Ramadan. Streets and shopping malls spring to life at night, as people jump to streets immediately after Iftar. But the major difference between the two countries is the working hours as Turkey does not allow any time relaxation for the employees during the Holy Month.
Ramadan is very special for Turkish families, whose food habits change drastically during Ramadan. We want to spread every possible delicacy on the dining table for ourselves and for guests. We start with soups, serve meat and mezzes for main course, followed by desserts. Though I miss home food here in Oman, the presence of many Turkish restaurants makes me a feel as if I am in Turkey. Moreover, I get all the ingredients for making Turkish food at home.
Imthiyaz P.K. (India)
Senior Manager, Business Systems & E-Commerce, Oman Air
It was in 1993 that I landed in Oman, and I still remember the first Iftar get-together I had with my friends and colleagues. We cooked food by ourselves, rolled out the mats in the hall and ate it together. And it still remains as one of the happiest Iftars of my life. There were plenty of groups of youngsters, especially among the Indian community at that time. I must confess that I never ate restaurant food after breaking the fast. But the number of bachelors began to dwindle as every one started bringing their families to Oman. Obviously, the frequency of lively Iftar parties is on the wane now.
The food habits among the expatriates have also undergone a sea change over the years. There was a time when people hardly ate from restaurants, especially the Iftar meal. But things have changed now, and every one banks on ready-to-eat food from the eateries.
I prefer to spend the Holy Month of Ramadan here in Oman. It is the time when the whole country changes into the spiritual mode. The reduced working hours means that pious people get more time for prayers. But I also wish to go back to my home country during Ramadan as it gives you an opportunity to do a lot of work for the society, as I believe that it is the best month to involve in social service activities.