*NOTE TO READER**
Information in this article is based on my experiences while living in the UAE. I do not practice Islam and I am not an expert on the religion. I am solely giving my perspective. Now, go on and read!!
Hey, Travelers Hey!!
Ramadan is approaching with lightning speed, and after 3.5 years of living in an Arab country, I’m pretty sure this is my year to get it right!
So, let me do a quick history/religion lesson for those of you who were like me pre Abu Dhabi living days. Ramadan is a spiritual ritual that Muslims across the world participate in annually. Muslims observe the Holy Month as a time of dedicating yourself to grow spiritually through the acts of fasting, prayer, abstaining from sex, profane language and behavior.
Believers of Islam fast from sunrise until sunset. During the fast, Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink while the sun is up. People that are exempt from fasting include the sick, pregnant women, children, the elderly, women who are breastfeeding or menstruating and anyone who may be traveling. But, if you miss days, you are required to make them up if and when you are able to at another time throughout the year.
All of this was very new to me when I moved abroad. Mainly because I didn’t know many practicing Muslims, or at least I never took the time to know them.
I know, I suck, but since moving and taking an interest in someone’s life that is different than my own, I learned so much about the Islamic culture and religion.
As you probably can imagine. Ramadan in an Arab country is totally different than Ramadan in other parts of the world. In my defense, in the States when you fast, you typically do so and go on about your day pretty normally. The UAE is not that way AT ALL! They make the people who are participating very comfortable and they try to ensure that they complete their fast throughout the day with minimal distraction or temptation.
If visiting the UAE during Ramadan you will see things such as restaurants being closed during the whole day and open all hours of the night. Restaurants will cover their windows with blackout curtains so that no one can see inside. Most food courts or restaurants in the mall will not allow you to eat inside until iftar has happened. It’s serious like that around here.
When I first moved, I can remember not being able to cook food during the day because of the possibility that you would receive a fine if anyone could smell the food outside of your home. I know personally of a man who received a ticket for drinking water in his car during fasting hours. I can also recall being told (this still hasn’t been proven) that if you were even caught chewing gum you could be fined. Those first years celebrating Ramadan was scary and more difficult to get through. I was always nervous that I would misstep in some way.
Since my first Ramadan in 2016 I’ve been able to filter out the fabricated stories and the real-life scenarios I could put myself in during the holy month. I typically just show respect to the fact that a majority of the country is participating in the fast, so if and when I eat, I do it in private (at work) and I stick to dishes that don’t smell. This has worked in my favor for the majority of the time that I have been here, but I also have gotten the most vicious mean mugs of my life when my coworkers would walk in on my popping some pistachios in my mouth or see me taking a swig of water. I’ve never felt so ashamed of eating in my life! But again, you learn as time progresses.
A common question that is asked to me quite often each year is, “Are you going to fast?” And as of last year, I actually attempted to participate. Those first two years were a wash honestly. It was too hot not to drink and my body wasn’t set up for resisting snacking throughout the day. But last year I gave it a try. I mean, it’s not like I’ve never fasted before. Back home my church has requested that we participate in a corporate fast where we all fasted as a unit during a specific time on a specified day but NOT 30 DAYS!!
So with my past experience with fasting, I figured, last year, that I could commit to fasting as long as I could during the day (on working days 😂). And I did ok for almost 2 weeks, after that, I just gave out and gave up. I could say that I couldn’t do it because I was working out every day before and after work. Or that because I teach PE I wasn’t able to not eat and teach throughout the day without some nourishment but truthfully I just didn’t hold myself accountable enough to push through completely. Not this year though!!
This year, I have actually mapped out a plan and I’m putting my all into sticking to it. Instead of doing a full on fast I’m going to do what works for me but will still allow me to experience the holy month. I am allowing myself to drink water throughout the day because I will still teach and work out and the last thing I need is to pass out on somebodies nasty gym floor.😷
My progressive fast schedule will proceed as follows:
Week One: Minimum 2 days of the week
Week Two: Minimum 4 days of the week
Week Three: Minimum 5 days of the week
Week Four: 7 day fast
This is the most realistic way for me because as stated above, I’ve never seriously fasted like this before. I’ve practiced here and there to prepare for Ramadan and I’m confident that I can stick it out.
**If you are feeling tempted, join me and we can hold one another accountable**
You may be wondering “Tia, why even fast at all?” That’s a great question. After all, I’m not Muslim, I am not being forced to fast, so why torture myself? Well, living in a place that has a majority of the people operating on one system kind of makes you feel like the odd man out if you do something different than the norm. That’s not to say I’m following the crowd or anything. I’m simply pointing out the obvious. The next point is, why not take advantage of the opportunity to connect with others in the culture that is so evidently surrounding me. I’ve spoken with a few of my coworkers that follow Islam about fasting and the expression that they gave when I said yes, to fasting for Ramadan was priceless. I could feel their energy shift just knowing that I wanted to stand unified with them although I believe something different than them. They appreciated me asking questions about Ramadan and actually putting forth the effort to gain as much knowledge as I could. I moved away not only to travel more and to make more money but to learn and experience a different lifestyle. I have the perfect opportunity and space to do so and I don’t want to spend another year wasting my opportunity during this special time.
With Ramadan starting in the next day or so ( tomorrow, I can say that I’m excited and nervous all balled up into one. I really want to come out better this year than I have previously. This Ramadan is very important to me. I want to prove to myself that I can be consistent and committed to a task. I think this time around I’m more invested because I’ve found a deeper purpose than just not eating throughout the day or just connecting culturally. I’m looking to change my lifestyle and create a deeper relationship with my inner self as well as my higher power.
I’ll continue to document my journey during the holy month and I hope that you all check in to see my progress and to hold me accountable. Again, if you want to participate in the journey with me don’t hesitate. It doesn’t have to only be for Muslims. We can use this time to grow as people in every facade of life.
So, until next time,
Take the World
and Ramadan Kareem!