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Sundown To Sunrise, Ramadan Markets Offer Break From Fast

Across the region, Muslims break daily fast and then hit the “souk” for some shopping and festive activities

Nearly two billion Muslims worldwide are preparing for the start of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar commemorating the Prophet Mohammad’s receipt from Allah of the first chapters of the Quran. Muslims observe the month-long period by abstaining during daylight hours from eating, drinking and smoking, as well as avoiding loud music and swearing, for example, throughout the thirty-day period; this, in a bid to cleanse the self of sin while strengthening one’s spirituality.

Since the focus of Ramadan is on prayer and charity, and because most Muslims fast, the day’s pace in the turbulent the Middle East slows to a crawl. In most regional countries, working hours are shortened and many venues close shop. The few restaurants that remain open draw down their blinds so passersby cannot see in.

But as the sun sets on the fast and evening prayers are concluded, Iftar (breaking of the fast) feasts are served and the streets come alive.

“A lot of places offer Ramadan activities,” Amira Tharaz, the owner of Lolita’s Market Bazar Exhibition in Dubai, told The Media Line. “We invite Arabic singers to perform the words of the Quran accompanied by musical instruments and swirling dancers who wear only white, signifying the holy book.”

Throughout the Mideast, hotels set up huge tents packed with elaborate nighttime buffets and in some places, spontaneous parties erupt in just about any place possible. For many, though, the main attraction during Ramadan are the numerous markets that pop up each year.

The “souks,” as they are known locally, attract hundreds of thousands of attendees every year. They are open from after evening prayers until late into the night, sometimes only shutting down immediately prior to morning prayers, when the new day’s fast begins.

“Ramadan is a charitable time,” said Tharaz, “and in this spirit, the markets always offer Ramadan discounts.”

Because of the heat, the popular markets are usually built indoors, with shopping centers renting out space to vendors and companies.

Having partnered with the United Arab Emirates government, Vega Intertrade has booked one of four halls in the Sharjah Expo Center, which houses one of the country’s most famous night markets, the “Ramadan Pavilion.” Some two hundred stands will fill the auditorium, with over 150,000 visitors expected to attend over the two weeks it is open.

Vendors will sell everything from food and appliances to clothing and accessories, according to Armand Lico, who is organizing the affair for Vega Intertrade. “There’s a lot of demand,” he told The Media Line, “Ramadan, is like Christmas. It’s holiday season.”

It is customary during Ramadan to buy new clothing and accessories for Eid Al Fitr, the three-day holiday that follows the end of the holy month. Accordingly, the markets have become almost synonymous with Ramadan—and this year’s offerings are sure to impress once again.

(Atara Shields is a student intern with The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)