This is the month called Ramadan, when Muslims engage in a variety of practices intended to remind them of their own good fortune and the misfortune of others. It is supposed to encourage in them feelings of sympathy for the less fortunate. All the good practices, such as charity to the poor, are considered even more beneficial during this month.
One of the most important practices is that they do not eat or drink, from dawn to dusk. From the moment of the first glimmer of daylight until the sun just drops below the horizon is the time to fast.
This, of course, immediately gives rise to the issue of the precise timing of these events, thence the title of this post.
WHAT TIME IS DINNER?
This is a major subject of discussion.
Last Saturday I happened to be on the airplane flying from Jeddah to Riyadh, right before sunset. The cabin crew very thoughtfully brought around little boxes for everybody with snacks in them, to break the fast. Each box contained a couple of cupcakes, some dates, water and juice. Everybody sat for about 10 minutes, not touching their boxes. To me it seemed like they were trying to figure out what to do. Nobody wanted to go first for fear of breaking the fast too early.
But we were in a real fix because nobody knew what time it should end.
Here are just a few of the problems. Saudi Arabia is entirely in 1 time zone. So the eastern cities see sunset before the central cities, which see it before the western cities. That means the fast ends at different times in each city.
Jeddah is at the far west and Riyadh is central. A couple of guys sitting in front of me got out their iGadgets and looked on their Ramadan Apps. One found the time for Riyadh and the other for Jeddah. Now we knew the 2 times. But we were still stuck because we didn't know exactly where we were between these 2 cities. So we couldn't interpolate accurately.
And then there's another hitch. I'll make a bit of a side track here.
Just before Ramadan started this year one of the big clerics in United Arab Emirates proclaimed that those people residing above the 100th floor in the soaring new skyscrapers of Dubai should break their fast 3 minutes later than people living on lower floors. The reason is that, as you go up in elevation you can see farther to the horizon and consequently you see the sun a little longer than the people lower down.
So the rich in their new penthouses in Dubai have to break their fasts later than the average folks living down near street level.
Well, there we were in our airplane, at 35,000 feet altitude, at an unspecified point between Jeddah and Riyadh, not knowing what to do.
Finally, the flight attendant, who had all the while been keeping his eye on the horizon, made an announcement over the loudspeaker that the sun had set and we were now free to eat!
Boy, those cupcakes tasted good!