By Ben Garcia
KUWAIT: Various ambassadors in Kuwait were interviewed by Kuwait Times to learn more about their local traditions and culture during Ramadan. We also asked about the current coronavirus situation in their respective countries and how they are handling and reacting to this pandemic. The following are excerpts from Kuwait Times’ interview with Pakistani Ambassador to Kuwait Syed Sajjad Haider.
Kuwait Times: We are in the time of a pandemic now. What are your orders to the Pakistani people in Kuwait with regards to following the local laws of the host country? What is the current situation of your people in Kuwait and back in Pakistan right now?
Syed Sajjad Haider: Both governments have been very proactive in addressing the pandemic. We both implemented several series of preventive measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus. We at the embassy advised our nationals to follow the laws of Kuwait and whatever is mandated by the authorities. We announced it on social media and even on radio and television to appeal to our people. We posted it on government pages, and I am glad that our people have been religiously showing respect to all laws and norms here.
If the government says lockdown, if curfew is implemented, we follow. We respect all laws related to the pandemic and all laws that are implemented. Since last year, we have always been guided by local laws and orders. Similarly, for our working hours, work from home or limiting contacts with people – we also implement that. We also implement social distancing and wearing of facemasks all the time in public, and gatherings are also prohibited.
We have had several deaths in Kuwait because of coronavirus, which is due to the unavoidable circumstances. We are all facing the same threat. That is why we appeal to our people to always follow the rules and avoid close contact with people they don’t know. In Pakistan, we have several challenges – from the number of people to vaccines.
But we are glad that we earned the praise of several international bodies because we locked down some places only and not the entire country. Food supplies are okay and we have not experienced shortages of anything. Cases in Pakistan right now are surging, but not as compared to the number of cases in other countries. Challenges are there, but we already have vaccines and people are getting them. Our population is almost 200 million, so definitely there are more cases compared to Kuwait and other countries.
Kuwait Times: How will Ramadan celebrations differ this year for your embassy and people?
Haider: Our celebrations are almost 99 percent similar. There are some differences in timings and traditions, but mostly we are the same in practice and observance. The very important and probably humorous thing in Ramadan is that we all plan to reduce our weight during the fasting period, but we all gain additional weight and end up eating a lot. We tend to eat more once the fasting time is over.
Pakistan is a populous country, while Kuwait is not. In Pakistan, 96 percent of the population is Muslim. I think it’s the same here in Kuwait, although there are expats and they have their own religions. Kuwait and Pakistan have similarities in terms of generosity. Kuwait is recognized as a humanitarian champion, but we do a lot of charity as well. According to estimates, we have given more than $75 billion in charity.
Ramadan is a purely religious activity between human beings and Allah. Ramadan is said to be an interaction between living beings and God. Fasting is between me and my God – nobody else. Who knows whether you are fasting? You are in the comfort of your home. You can tell me you are fasting but are actually not. But we put our trust in God. During the holy month of Ramadan, we try to pray a lot, read the Holy Quran, take care of all the people among us and try to follow the teachings of our Prophet (PBUH). Also, we are very irritable during the day (because of not eating), but it’s okay. The Holy Quran is not for Muslims alone – it is for the whole of mankind.
Kuwait Times: Tell us about cultural and religious celebrations in Kuwait.
Haider: Ramadan is divided into three separate phases. In the beginning, we will be seeking Allah’s mercy for our sins; in the middle part, we seek Allah’s forgiveness and in the third part we pray to God to save us from the hellfire. This we all agree on. Also, we believe in the last 10 days of Ramadan is Lailatulqadr (night of destiny). We don’t know what Allah has in store for us. The benefits granted to Muslims for praying regularly and visiting the mosque are unlimited. The month of Ramadan is also a month of charity. Many of us give and share something. We also give zakat, equivalent to 2.5 percent of our wealth.
Kuwait Times: Are there any activities organized by the embassy during Ramadan and Eid?
Haider: Certainly, when we are back to normal, we will have several community activities during Ramadan and Eid. Breaking the fast is a great time to be with the community members. We break the fast by eating dates, water and laban. We can also break the fast with juice or syrup. Then we offer Maghrib prayers. After that, we have the main course. Then we read the Holy Quran and talk over cups of tea until taraweeh prayers.
This is now my second year in Kuwait as ambassador. I started when the pandemic was raging all over the world. Normal activities at the embassy include parties for the community to celebrate with them. We want to cook and serve traditional foods, either by the community or by catering services. We want to invite community leaders and Pakistani students to meet and know them. But this won’t happen as everything is still prohibited.
During Ramadan, in far-flung provinces, we still have people who rise early to beat the drums to wake people up for prayers. After Ramadan, they will ask people for some money for waking them up. It’s a tradition in some areas. Some people prefer to go to the mosque to break the fast. But the fast can be broken at home or even at work.
Kuwait Times: What is your special and favorite food during Ramadan?
Haider: All food is special for me, but we like samosas the most. It’s a food that is normally on the tables of most Pakistani families. I prefer to eat rice with curry, either chicken or mutton. We have several traditional and famous dishes like nihari, karahi and korma; sweets like halwa puri, falooda, Karachi halwa, kalakand and Umm Ali, along with dates and nuts. The dishes are almost similar to traditional Indian food, as we share a similar cultural heritage. We also eat a lot during the three days of Eid.
Kuwait Times: Do you visit cemeteries during Ramadan or Eid?
Haider: We can visit the graves of departed family members any time we want. I visit the graves of my parents often, knowing that one day, we shall all be resting there too. We have to be constantly reminded that we are all mortals and one day we will also rest like them.