Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Holy Month of Ramadan

As mentioned in my last post, Muslims follow the Hijri calendar which is made up of 12 lunar months. What I did not tell you is that the ninth month of the Islamic calendar is also referred to as the Holy Month of Ramadan for it was then that the Quran was revealed by Allah to mankind.

Ramadan is a time to reflect on life. Ramadan is about simplicity, purity, brotherhood and community feeling. Ramadan is about spiritual reflection, prayers, good deeds, self-discipline and self-restraint.

To help develop moral discipline and serve as a reminder of the troubles of those who live in constant hunger and deprivation, Muslims fast between break of dawn and sunset throughout the entire month of Ramadan. This means that, during 30 days, from dawn to sunset, Muslims cultivate good behavior and abstain from food, liquids and sexual activity.

Living in a Muslim country these principles also apply to me. Actually, they apply to every single person in the UAE during that time of the year: resident or visitor. I mean, it’s not like they force people to fast. You can do whatever you want in your home or in your hotel room. But, whenever you are out in public places (beach, mall, hotel lobby, etc.), you must respect the religious tradition.

Most restaurants are closed throughout the day, opening only for dinner. You won’t even find fast food joints willing to sell you anything since they will also be closed. And don’t even think about bringing a bottle of water or a sandwich with you because if you are caught drinking or eating in a public place you will most probably be fined or get yourself arrested.

During this time of the year, streets are usually quiet during the day. People don’t do much. They just go to work (working hours are reduced from eight to six hours a day) and back home to rest, fast and pray. Non-Muslims end up doing the same – well, maybe not the fasting and praying part, but the resting since there is nothing to do out on the streets.

At night though, it’s a different story. Everyone is out on the streets, going to hotels or to a friend’s house for Iftar – the evening meal, usually done as a community, when Muslims break their fast. Traditionally, a date is the first thing to be consumed when the fast is broken. People are often advised to keep to healthy and lighter stuff, but the truth is there is an enormous variety of food going around.

If you are ever in the UAE during Ramadan, you have to attend an Iftar at one of the many hotels. But, from dawn to sunset, remember:

No liquids – not even water
No food – not even gum
No sexual activity – not even holding hands
No bad habits – not even one cigarette

Just got a text message saying the moon was sighted and today is the last day of Ramadan. I am off to enjoy Eid Al Fitr (the Muslim holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan) and will be back next week.

Until then, Eid Mubarak (Happy Eid) to all!

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