Ramadan is officially upon us! As I am completing my 3rdyear living in the UAE, I am actually excited this time around. Moving abroad three years ago, I was very nervous to find whatlay ahead of me in terms of this holy month as an expat Christian. I had heard so many horror stories of people getting arrested because they drank water in their cars or chew gum in public. I was NOT ready! Or so I thought.
To fill you in, if you don’t know, here’s a little rundown about Ramadan and what is and how things are effected in the UAE.
What is Ramadan?
Muslims base their religion on something called the 5 Pillars of Islam. These Pillars are declaring faith, prayer, giving, pilgrimage to Mecca and fasting during the month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for practicing Muslims. It was the month that the Prophet Mohammad received the Quran.
Ramadan will be observed on May 17, 2018 until June 16, 2018. It last for a complete cycle of the moon which can be 29-30 days. Sightings of the moon determine when Ramadan begins and ends.
How Ramadan is observed
Muslims who are of age for fasting (as determined by families) will fast from dawn until dusk. If you are sick, menstruating, breastfeeding or pregnant you are not required to fast.
Fasting requires one to abstain from eating, drinking and smoking. During Ramadan, you are also required to refrain from sexual relations, cursing and sinful behavior.
Muslims also pray for 30 nights. Each time quoting different parts of the Quran until it is completed.
Muslims break their fast at sunset. Fast is traditionally broken by eating a cultural food called dates.After breaking fast, Muslims participate in iftar(meal break). Families also participate in community service that includes but is not limited to giving to the needy and sharing the things that they are blessed with.
These are just basic things to know that I have picked up over the years and maybe will help you become more awareto the holy month this year or in the future.
Walk Down Memory Lane
During my first year, I had all of the facts and some exaggerated truths about the holy month. To my surprise my first year went by rather smoothly. I made sure to be very respectful of the people who were around me by not eating and drinking in front of them and by keeping my cooking until after fasting hours. I only shopped for groceries at night because I was informed that the malls and shopping centers opened and closed much later than normal. It was different to say the least but it was actually exciting to immerse myself in a new culture that allowed me to move differently than I had back home.
My second year, of course, was different than the first. I had already gotten my feet wet in the sandbox and I knew what to expect. This time I observed new things that had not been brought to my attention the first go around. I noticed that many restaurants were open during fasting times but they had closed curtain policies. This means that you can eat in the establishment but they pull back the curtains so not to offend the passersby that may be participating in Ramadan. Unlike the year before, you could most definitely do grocery shopping during the day without problem. I also realized that eating and drinking in public didn’t bring on as severe of consequences as I had originally been told, which was great because well, it’s the desert, and it’s HOT!! Furthermore, Ilearned that cooking in my house wasn’t an issue (maybe because my neighbors aren’t Muslim but I guess I’ll never know for sure). I found that there was so much to still do. The year before everyone basically made it seem like EVERYTHING shuts down during Ramadan and that’s just not true. After hours I was still able to go to bars, movies and some lounges. I even had a few house gatherings among friends. My second year really opened my eyes to new meanings of how to maneuver through the holy month as a non-Muslim expat.
This year, I think I have it in the bag. I know what I can and cannot do and I have a plan for what I want to do to make this a service filled and cultural experience for myself and others. One of the first things that I am doing is fasting. Now, let me be clear so that I’m not held accountable for the wrong things lol. I am fasting from my own personal things that I struggle with that will help me in my life and bring me closer to God. So, I will fill you all in so that maybe it can help hold me more accountable for the coming fasting season. I am looking forward to cutting certain things out of my diet to see the health benefits. I am cutting out sugar, beef, bread and (Lord help me) DAIRY!! All of these are things I absolutely LOVE (dairy the most) Iwant to see the health benefits as well as discipline myself from things that I feel really tied to. In addition to fasting from my faves my friends and I have decided to participate in some cultural iftars. We plan to fast during the day and participate to get a true feeling of breaking fast with others as well. Lastly, we want to participate in community service. This will involve us giving must needed items to workers around the city. These items may include, but are not limited to, food, hygiene items, water, clothes and more. As Ramadan is a time of giving and self-improvement, we want to help those who may be less fortunate than us. I think I am most excited about this.
Ramadan for Non-Muslims
As a member of a different religion or even if you have no religious affiliation at all, you are not required to fast during Ramadan when you live in the UAE. There are, however guidelines and etiquette you should follow.
- Be respectful of what you say, wear or the actions you take in public during the holy month
- Don’t eat, drink, or smoke in public during fasting hours
- No PDA-Refrain from kissing, hugging and any other displays of affection that may be looked upon as rude to someone who is abstaining from it.
- No loud music or dancing in a public area. If you feel the urge, twinkle your toes at home!
- Listen to music in your headphones
From my experience as a resident of Abu Dhabi, penalties for breaking any of these basic etiquette guidelines, hasn’t resulted in consequences other than evil stares or loud whispers (from my experience) Although, I have heard through the grapevine that someone received a 1,000AED fine (273USD) for eating while walking to their car) I’m not sure the validity of that story but to stay clear of any mishaps I would just err on the side of caution.
All in all, living in a Muslim country as a Christian-expat during Ramadan isn’t bad or hard. It’s very enlightening and refreshing if you take for what it’sworth. My third year is bound to be different in many ways than previous years. Continue to look out for my post as I take on the holy month of Ramadan this year.