It is Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam.
For many current and former non-Muslim expatriates in the Arab world, the observance has affected them in no uncertain terms. It has engendered religious fervor, strengthened faith in God and imbued them with love for fellow human beings, particularly the less-fortunate.
“Ramadan is a solemn occasion for deep and solemn reflection,“ said Mohamed A. A. Bayoumi, a friend of Filipinos in Jeddah.
Bayoumi, a Sudanese national who has lived in Saudi Arabia for 45 years, traveled to the Philippines in 2000 to receive his Bagong Bayani Award for Lifetime Achievement from then President Joseph Estrada.
The other pillars of Islam are profession of faith (that there is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God), salah (prayer), zakat (alms), sawm (fasting from dawn to dusk) and hajj (pilgrimage).
For sure, observing Ramadan with brother Muslims is not without sacrifices. Used to a different normal way of living, fasting or skipping lunch and refraining from things not allowed during the holy month is not easy for non-Muslims.
It is more of an ordeal than anything else.
But they get used to it. They eventually find it some sort of a victory to prevail over their personal desires which, they could not indulge in during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
However, by fasting all the toxic foods they have eaten are digested, which gives them good health as a result.
There are other things that should be avoided aside from food, water or cigarette. These include gossiping or saying something bad against others.
Muslims are allowed to knock off from work earlier than expats or non-Muslim. At first, expats or non-Muslims begrudged the Muslims this accommodation, but would later understand it was part of the Ramadan ritual.
Both Muslims and non-Muslims return to work at night after breakfast or Iftar.
Expats work until it is time for Iftar.
Some stay with others on duty. Their breakfast is food provided free by their respective companies.
Those who decide to go home to join their families for breakfast take home the food allotted them.
If there are food packs left, they invite others to join them for Iftar or give these to them in accordance with the spirit of the season.
The free food projects company generosity. It gives workers an upbeat mood or optimism as they drive their cars in a hurry along almost empty roads since most motorists have already gone home.
After breakfast, two or three hours later they go back to work, telling themselves that when they leave the Kingdom for good, they will miss Iftar, a remembrance of the time they worked in the Arab world.