Ramadan is upon us, so firstly “Ramadan Kareem” which means Blessed Ramadan!
Ramadan is one of the five Pillars of Islam and one of the MUST do’s for all Muslims across the world. The fasting tradition stems long before Islam and in fact is an extension of the traditions of Jews and Christians. It is is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar and is the month during which the Quran was sent down to the lowest Heaven so that the Angel Jabriel (Gabriel – do you recognise him?), could pass the messages to the Prophet Mohammed PBUH (peace be upon him).
The term ‘Ramadan’ originates from the Arabic word, ‘Ramad’ which means to be intensely heated by the sun. This just goes to show how hard fasting is; especially in these temperatures.
Fasting tests Muslims devotion, sacrifice, sympathy and generosity and is a month that allows you to be very reflective. From sunrise to sunset nothing can pass your lips; no water, no gum and no food!
The hunger and thirst that you experience during this time gives people a real insight into what it must be like for those who have little or nothing to eat on a daily basis. These realisations make you thankful for all that you have, and encourage you to help those less fortunate and bring you closer to God as you appreciate all that you have been given.
There are exceptions made for certain people during Ramadan – although it is expected that you make up the fast during the rest of the year. It is also more about your intentions rather than your acts, and those that intend to fast but are very sick, pregnant, or breastfeeding for example, are believed to be forgiven for breaking fast if they find it too hard.
In the past, travellers were also exempt if their intention was to fast but their journey made it too hard for them, (bearing in mind that travellers at that time were riding camels for long periods each days across barren desert lands to reach their destination). Nowadays, few people refrain from fasting during journeys as we have easier travel than previous times.
As with many events in our calendar these days, Ramadan, in some areas is becoming more commercialised. I think it’s really important to stress that Ramadan is not about luxurious Iftars or massive evening meals, but instead, it’s about bringing together communities to share basic foods, it’s about the gathering of families together, a reflection on your inner self and taking part in joint prayers.
In our family, everyone gathers in the small town that our family are from. This usually takes place at my children’s Great Grandmothers’ place until this year she sadly passed away. Here she would host the men of the family in her majalis (which is a lounge or meeting area) and this means that multiple generations all came together to eat, pray and relax, while the women converge at my Mother-in-Laws house for hours (or at my Father-in -Laws’ sisters’ house to do the same with the girls).
It really is so lovely to spend afternoons preparing food for Iftar together, greeting each other and spending this important month together, and overall being thankful of everything that we have.
Likewise, communities also come together, and it’s amazing that this is now extending to non Muslims too who also enjoy helping out, doing charitable deeds and generally supporting each other.
Last year the ‘Ramadan Fridge’ appeal across the UAE brought huge numbers of people across the city together, and there were communities who clubbed together to support the security teams and gardeners in their compounds and schools.
Each night mosques prepare and serve meals to all those who attend their iftars free of charge, and the community here can donate and support all of these initiatives. If you haven’t done so already, I would encourage you to follow some of the links below to find out more.
The most beautiful part of being part of any charitable deed is holding the belief that it should not be for any kind of personal gain. Muslims are encouraged not to ‘brag’ of the good deeds that they do, and to always remain humble and undertake any good deed with the intention that it is only for the recipient and not for the acclaim of others.
While fasting Muslims have a list of ‘sins’ that will break their fast, these include the acts of desire, food, drink, or things that represent nourishment of the body during daylight hours, mensis, and forced vomit. If you want to know more about how scholars consider these acts during Ramadan, you can read more here.
It is a brilliant time to learn more about Islam, and the culture of the UAE and there are also a number of laws in place during Ramadan that we should all make ourselves aware of.
It is illegal for example, to eat or drink in public, and while most people allow young children that cannot wait for a private area to do so, there are many places in every mall that have an area where eating and drinking establishments are open for those not fasting to use. If you can, try to get to those places.
The country also has rules in place for those covered by UAE labour law reducing their working hours to help those fasting, so be careful on the roads around rush hour timings, as thirst and hunger is hard on the body and the first few days especially are always the hardest.
Otherwise life continues as normal; children go to school, parents go to work and for the tourist and non-fasting communities, food and drink establishments with the license to do so will continue to serve.
There are no dry nights during Ramadan or Eid al Fitr, however, establishments need to have a specialist license to serve alcohol or any food and drink or have food or drink consumed on their premises.
If you would like to gift something to your fasting neighbours, then gestures such as dates, appetisers such as spring rolls or samosas, and sweet deserts are common gifts between neighbours in the early evenings for Iftar. Don’t underestimate that a simple greeting of Ramadan Kareem will always go down well too!
Ramadan Kareem to everyone, keep up the community spirit and please do share the love at this very special time of year!
Written by British mum Aimee Al Kaabi
About the author:
About the Author: Known as Aimee to most of my friends and family within the Emirati community it is common to be known as the mother of your first born, Um Faris, in my case. It’s a real privilege to be granted this title as it demonstrates the blessing of children and the important role family has in the community. It took a while to get used to being known by a different name and can get confusing when as a family we are introduced as Um Faris (Mother of Faris), Abu Faris (Father of Faris, bu Faris for short), Faris (my eldest son) and Zayed (the youngest who gets no recognition in the family name but is smothered by love all the same).