Ramadan is an annual spiritual event mandated by two Islamic sources, Al-Qur'an and Sunnah that engulfs the entire Muslim Ummah. It includes the siyaam or fast which is one of the five pillars of Islam. The word Ramadon is derived from the word ramida denoting scorching and referring to the heating sensation in the stomach that is a result of thirst. Ramadon "scorches out the sins with good deeds as the sun burns the ground".
Ramadan lasts a full month and includes a complete fast from sunup to sundown. A complete fast includes abstaining from food, drink, tobacco and sex, as well as refraining from obscene language or behavior. No food for a day isn't that bad but the lack of water or liquids takes it's toll as the month goes on. The expectation is that people will eat breakfast early and hold out until the Iftar or breaking of the fast at sundown. Many then have supper later at around 11:00 pm. There are exceptions for young children, the elderly and the sick. In fact I am told there are a whole host of exceptions.
The month of Ramadon is intended as a time of sacrifice and personal reflection that is meant to purify the soul. There are daily prayers and ceremonies on Friday afternoons. No one was to flaunt their fast and people were expected to continue on with business as usual.
Former President General Ziaul Haq took this holiday observed by the Muslim faithful and declared it a government mandated responsibility for all Muslims in Pakistan. While the country was founded to provide a safe place for religious Muslims as a "secular Muslim state" This decree institutionalized the religious practice as state policy. And according to a newspaper editorial I read had a profound impact on the "practice" of Ramadon.
Christmas and Easter have become "institutionalized" as national Holidays in the west but not as government mandated practice. Still, Christmas trees, gifts, Easter bunnies and candy seem far removed from the meaning of Christ's birth and death. The local Muslim writers lament the departure from the meaning and purpose of Ramadon to the practice it has evolved into.
Business hours are modified, usually 8:00 am to 3:30 pm daily and closing at 12:30 pm on Fridays. By early afternoon the effects of no water are readily seen in a lack of concentration and even falling asleep. Part of this is because people go to bed late after a supper at 10-11pm and wake up about 4:00 am for breakfast. One Muslim writer called it an excuse for not doing any work which costs the country a month of productive work. The instructions for Ramadon are that one must continue on with "business as usual" but the reality is quite different. We effectively lose a half day of interaction with our counterparts here.
During Ramadon the only restaurants open (by law) are the few international hotels. (also the most expensive of course) So we effectively maintain a fast ourselves except for some occasional fruit & crackers in the afternoon and tea and water during the day. Actually not a bad practice.
Before Ramadon started there were news articles about the government not only monitoring to see that Ramadon was "observed" but also to try to prevent the rapid rise in prices that usually occurs. While fasting is observed during the day we see lavish Iftar (breaking of the fast) parties with mountains of food at sunset. We noticed that at our hotel the quantity & quality of food declined and the prices went up.
Seems that institutionalizing a profound religious celebration does not guarentee the desired spiritual discipline and reflection despite good intentions.