Ramadan – The Holy Month

Living in Dubai, there is no escaping Ramadan and it’s practices.  I actually think that is a great thing!  What a fabulous way to understand another culture.  I have learnt so much in the last few, that I actually look forward to learning more again this time round.

For those of you who do not know a thing about it, here is some random factoids:

(These may not be entirely accurate, but are true to the best of my knowledge.)

What is Ramadan?
It is the Holy Month.  A month where Muslims fast from sun up to sun down.  It is a month of prayer, and charity, and quiet contemplation.  Fasting hours are long (approximately 15hrs this year), but it’s difficulty is something which is embraced.  From what friends have said, it is only when you are deprived of the luxury of food and water that you can truly appreciate the blessings in your life.  It’s like Lent for Christians, only taken much more seriously and much more extreme.  Giving up chocolate for a month doesn’t quiet compare to 30 days (approx) of full on fasting.

When is Ramadan?
It is approximately 30 days every year, but moves forward a little each calendar year as it is worked out on the muslim calendar and is dictated by moon sightings.  This year the Sharjah Planetarium have predicted it will start on 29th June.  The world however waits for the official announcement by Saudi.  Generally it is only 24hrs before the start of Ramadan that it is confirmed as again, it is dependant on the sighting of the moon.

Women & Children
Generally, and I think this is right, Muslim children are not permitted to do a full fast until adolescence.  However, growing up in a household who is observing the fast, many kids want to give it a go!  Apparently it is not advisable for children under the age of 7 or 8 to try, but if a child is insistent enough, then they start on fasting for a few hours at a time.  As they hit puberty, then they are allowed to (expected to?) do the whole thing.  Women get two outs:  that monthly mother nature thing, and pregnancy.  Both however do not give you the right to skip it for a whole year!  You just do it at another time.

In the UAE, we are all expected to be respectful of Ramadan… and quite rightly so.  No drinking or eating, smoking or gum chewing in public – which includes in your car and on your balcony at home.  Modest clothes, ie, knees and shoulders covered (which should be a daily rule anyway really) is a requirement and tight clothing is advised against.  No singing or dancing in public, no loud music anywhere – in your home or your car even.  Not during daylight hours.  After daylight hours, you are encouraged to engage in Iftar or Suhoor, and it’s always nice and polite to greet people with a cheerful “Ramadan Kareem”!  Mostly, be respectful and kind.  Have extra patience and tolerance when speaking to people who fast.  Have you ever had to fast for a few hours pre-surgery?!  It’s not easy and I for one was borderline evil!!  And my personal rule, tip taxi drivers generously.  They are fasting and yet still providing your car service.  It must be hell for the day drivers, poor chaps. Oh, and no cursing or blaspheming.  It’s never cool anyway (yes, I know I have a potty mouth!) but it really is hugely insulting during Ramadan.

Work hours
Most places have reduced working hours, so always good to be mindful of that if you need to get anything accomplished during this time.

Iftar is the meal that breaks the fast.  It starts with some fruit juice and dates, and then progresses into salads and meats, and then puddings.  The reason it starts with the juices and dates is to raise the blood sugar quickly as after a day of fasting, it will be very low.  It also is not healthy to gorge on an empty stomach.  Iftar takes hours, and is a real family event.  I love seeing such large groups of people out celebrating and enjoying each other.  It’s like Christmas for 30 nights!  A lot of the restaurants and hotels will have “Ramadan Tents” where Iftar is held.  Prices vary across the city, but it really is worth going to one or two to experience the wonderfully festive atmosphere.  As a non-fasting person, be respectful and do not jump right into the buffet.  Let the people fasting have first crack at the whip!

This one I am a bit confused about.  It appears to start across the city at 9pm ish, and go on until about 3am.  However, I think Suhoor is the meal before the fast starts?  Perhaps its just the catering world’s way of cashing in?!  Anyway, the Suhoor events are again very family oriented and have masses of food.  There is also quite often shisha smoked continually from what I can see!  A lot of these gatherings include traditional music and dances.  It’s a lovely way to immerse yourself in the culture of the country you are living in.  I find it absolutely fascinating and cannot wait to see more!

Ramadan Kareem means Happy Ramadan – Always say this with a giant smile!  It’s like saying ‘Happy Christmas”!!
Ramadan Mubarak means Blessed Ramadan – I don’t feel I can use this one as a non-Muslim.  I feel it would be a bit rude, if that makes sense.

I think that charity should be a year round thing, and it is one of the 5 pilars of Islam, so I am in keeping with that one anyway.  However, during the Holy Month, charity is much more important as it is a way of recognising how fortunate you are.  Everyone, no matter how large or small their income is, is as generous as possible.  One thing I do each year is look to the deal websites (Groupon, etc.) for the ‘Meals for Labourers’ offers.  Personally, and I am not saying everyone has to, I buy from a number of different websites to ensure that my donations reach as many different camps as possible, and I donate the cost of a “posh” brunch.  One brunch for me feeds a hell of a lot of labourers.  In fact, it actually becomes a bit embarrassing when you work it out.  So, I do encourage you to all buy at least one.  They start from AED15, which is a quarter the price of the average glass of wine.

It really is advisable to limit your time on the roads just before Iftar.  It is insane and scary as anything.  If you have to go out, be patient and tolerant, but also be extra vigilant on checking your mirrors and blind spots.  Exercise extreme caution!!

When does it end?
Approximately 30 days after it begins, but is again dependant on moon sighting.  It could be a day less or a day more.  It is marked with Eid-Al-Fitr (Festival of Breaking the Fast).  This is a huge celebration!  A bit like Christmas.  Gifts are given.  Families gather.  Celebrations are had.  It’s so much fun!

Random bonuses to Ramadan
There is more Arabic food available than normal, and also dishes that are specific to this time of year.  A great time for a foodie to try new things!
There are massive sales on in pretty much every shop.
You get to bond with your neighbours and coworkers, whilst respectfully supporting and celebrating their religion.
Shorter working hours ;0)

I know a lot of people dread Ramadan, and I know it is obscenely hot at the moment for those who are observing, but I truly believe that this is a good time of the year!

Ramadan Kareem!

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