Ramadan Kareem

It is that time of the year again where some of our normal actions, our behaviour and working hours are in practise dictated by the moon. It’s: Ramadan-time again.

Ramadan begins with the sighting of the new moon crescent and it ends with the sighting of the next new moon which marks the beginning of Eid. Here in the UAE it is the Moon Sighting Committee that will announce when Ramadan starts.
The holy month of Ramadan – the ninth month in the Islamic year – has quite a big impact on the things you are allowed to do here in Dubai and in the UAE in general and when you are allowed to do them. For expats, the major things and issues to be aware of during Ramadan are the following:

1. No intake of food and drinks in public from sunrise through sunset.
2. No smoking in public either.
3. Bars will not open til 7.30pm
4. No public entertainment or (loud) music (keep you car radio down a bit).
5. After Iftar – the prayer at sunset – you can assume your normal way of life and eat, drink and smoke in public until sunrise.

During Ramadan, the faithful Muslim will abstain from food from sun up to sundown, but at dusk the family will gather for fast-breaking, known as Iftar. The sundown meal starts with the ritual eating of a date — just as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was believed to have done. Then it's time for a prayer to thank Allah followed by the meal. In many homes, this is a simple meal of fruits and vegetables along with traditional Middle Eastern fare.

Over time, Iftar has grown into banquets and small festivals. This is a time of fellowship with families, friends and surrounding communities, but may also occupy larger spaces at mosques or banquet halls, where a hundred or more may gather at a time.
Some markets and smaller shops close down during evening prayers and the Iftar meal, but then re-open and stay open for a good part of the night. Muslims can be seen shopping, eating, spending time with their friends and family during the evening hours. In many mid-east countries, this can last late into the evening, to early morning. However, if they try to attend to business as usual, it can become a time of personal trials, fasting without coffee or water.

During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating or drinking starting from dawn till dusk. To prepare for the fasting, Muslims wake up before dawn and the fajr prayer to eat a meal (Sahoor). Muslims break their fast at Maghrib (at sunset) prayer time with a meal called Iftar. Muslims may continue to eat and drink after the sun has set until the next morning's fajr prayer call. Ramadan is a time of reflecting , believing and worshiping God. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene and irreligious sights and sounds. Sexual activities during fasting hours are also forbidden. Purity of both thoughts and actions is important. The fast is intended to be an exacting act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised awareness of closeness to God.

The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity (Zakat).

Muslims should start observing the fasting ritual upon reaching the age of puberty, so long as they are healthy, sane and have no disabilities or illnesses. The elderly, the chronically ill, and the mentally ill are exempt from fasting, although the first two groups must endeavor to feed the poor in place of their missed fasting. People who are travelling long distances do not have to fast. Also exempt are pregnant women, women during the period of their menstruation, and women nursing their newborns. A difference of opinion exists among Islamic scholars as to whether this last group must make up the days they miss at a later date, or feed poor people as a recompense for days missed. While fasting is not considered compulsory in childhood, many children endeavour to complete as many fasts as possible as practice for later life. Lastly, those traveling are exempt, but must make up the days they miss.
The elderly or those who suffer from a disability or disease and have no prospect of getting better in the future can pay the cost of Iftar for a person who cannot afford it, or else they can host such a person in their house and have him eat with them after sunset as a way of repaying for the days they could not fast.

Ramadan is also a time when Muslims are supposed to take a step back from worldly affairs and focus on self-reformation, spiritual cleansing and enlightenment; this is to establish a link between themselves and God through prayer, supplication, charity, good deeds, kindness and helping others. Since it is a festival of giving and sharing, Muslims prepare special foods and buy gifts for their family and friends and for giving to the poor and needy who cannot afford it; this can involve buying new clothes, shoes and other items of need. There is also a social aspect involving the preparing of special foods and inviting people for Iftar.

The holiday of Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadan and the first day of the following month, after another new moon has been sighted. The Eid falls after 29 or 30 days of fasting, per the lunar sighting. Eid ul-Fitr means the Festival of Breaking the Fast; a special celebration is made. Food is donated to the poor everyone puts on their best, usually new, clothes; and communal prayers are held in the early morning, followed by feasting and visiting relatives and friends.

To non-Muslim exparts, it may all sound a bit dull. Fortunately, non-Muslims are not required to fast which obviously makes things easier. Business life is affected quite a lot. The UAE Labour Law requires companies to reduce working hours by two on working days for all employees. Many companies, however, do not adhere to this rule and will only reduce working time for those fasting. However, all public and government offices will be observing the reduced hours making it more difficult to have documents processed. Also, business in general slows down significantly with fewer client visits and meetings and no major decisions seem to be made during the month of Ramadan. In addition, many expats actually leave the country for holidays during Ramadan.
The shopping malls are strangely silent with all the coffee shops, fast-food outlets and restaurants shut and no music being played anywhere – or at least kept at very low volume.

Most companies will provide a separate dining room for the non-muslims where they can eat their lunch, and possibly even a smoking room, so life here for expats is not really affected that much.
With the UAE authorities usual pragmatic approach to life’s issues, the non-Muslim part of the population can still pretty much carry on with their lives and it will still be possible to eat, drink and smoke during the day, as long as you don’t do it in the face of a fastening Muslim. Doing so is considered a criminal offence and during the past three years, 24 people were arrested for breaking the fast in public in the Emirate of Dubai. The punishment imposed on the sinners is usually a month in jail and/or a 2.000 Dirham fine. Better to avoid offending those fastening and stay safe, unless your car has got a really good layer of tint. Don’t do it – wait till you are safe home behind your shut blinds or drawn curtains. Then you can do pretty much whatever you want.
Just before 7.30pm you will find many expats queuing up outside bars and pubs waiting to get a drink. Alcohol is still available in Dubai during Ramadan and the bars do open (and are usually pretty crowded), howver there will be no live music and if music is played, it will be very quiet. This also goes for Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. However, in Abu Dhabi bars will be closed during Ramadan. In Sharjah, there are no bars at all.

Ramadan Kareem means “Ramadan the generous” and refers to all the good fasting and the spiritual insights supposedly brings the faithful. It is a phrase which is used widely in public ads and as a greeting during Ramadan. Well, Ramadan Kareem and happy fasting. Another 25 days to go before Eid and a few public holidays.

- with input from wikipedia.org

1 comment:

Bill Ryan said...

That is a well documented and respectful view of Ramadan.

But how difficult is it for those fasting to go so long without drinking - it must be hard. My brother and sister in law (long time Dubai residents) tell me that many drivers are bad tempered during the day (low blood sugar).