Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ramadan....Coming Soon to a Nation Near You

So we are approximately 10 days out from the holy month of Ramadan in the UAE.  The ninth month on the Islamic calendar is approaching and that means some lifestyle changes on the horizon.  Contrary to popular belief the rules of Ramadan are applied whether you are Muslim or not, so observing the occasion in an Islamic nation can be quite interesting for a foreigner.

Let's start with the basic tenets - you can't eat or drink from sun-up to sun-down, period.  Whether you are fasting or not, you cannot be even seen eating or drinking during this time - including your car.  Thinking about enjoying that latte on your way to work?  Think again.  Unless you are prepared for your coffee to cost 2500dhs I'd advise against it.  There are some who even consider the act of swallowing your own saliva to be breaking the fast, yet spitting is doubly punishable during Ramadan.

Other obligations are as follows:
  • Curb undesirable emotions such as anger, greed, envy, lust, and refrain from gossip.
  • Keep thoughts and actions pure and use the time of fasting for spiritual contemplation.
  • Be charitable and help those in need.
  • Visit friends and family members.
  • Increased modesty - namely woman are encouraged not to wear makeup and cover their knees and shoulders
  • No chewing gum or smoking
  • No loud music or even TV watching
  • No sex during daylight hours
For the most part it isn't all draconian, although enforcement is strict.  Most of the city is in high spirits greeting each other with a "Ramadan Kareem" whenever they get the chance.

When the sunsets, the real celebrations begin.  The fast is broken by a meal called Iftar an evening meal just after sunset, traditionally a light snack of dates and water.  That said, this has not been my experience in the UAE.  Iftar meals are absolute feasts with a roasted lamb stuffed with rice taking center stage.  With a wealth of side dishes both hot and cold, most iftar displays are plentiful.  Then later in the evening it is customary to have Suhoor - the meal in the morning just before sunrise.  The irony is that with all the fasting and feasting most people gain weight during the Ramadan fast if you can believe it!
This what breaking the fast looks like at Bab al Shams resort.

One of the little known facts about this month is that the government requires that all businesses restrict their day by 2 hours, whether employees are Muslim or not.  So the whole town pretty much lets out at 3pm, which is a welcome change - desert heat plus lack of food equals a well deserved nap!

I hope you've enjoyed Ramadan 101!

1 comment:

jimdad said...

Interesting how the spirit of a religious holiday can get lost in everyday life, isn't it. 'Kind of reminds me of Jim Gaffigan's routines about holidays.