It’s my second time to observe Ramadan yet it felt like a first during the first two days (It started on August 22). The shallow persona in me appreciates this season for two main reasons: work schedule is shortened by two hours and I lose some weight because I’m semi-fasting. I’m a Catholic and I cannot say that I intentionally fast but I wholeheartedly do it as respect for Islam. Especially that I’m in UAE.
Time Out (a practical guide on what to do, how to, etc. in UAE) shared a number of reminders before the Ramadan kicked off:
(a) Don’t smoke, drink, chew gum or eat in public in the hours between sunrise and sunset. It’s offensive, and flagrant flaunting of the rules could also get you a warning from the police or even result in you spending the rest of the month in jail.
(b) Don’t dance or sing in public at any time. Not that you should have many opportunities – there will be no live music gigs and only background music in bars.
(c) Don’t expect to have the kind of blow-out clubbing weekends you might be used to. Most major nightclubs will be shut, but many bars and pubs will be open after 7pm. A few may open before that time, but they will not serve alcohol until sundown.
(d) Don’t play loud music at any time in your car, on the beach or even at home. If it’s audible to others it may offend.
(e) Don’t wear revealing or tight clothes in public, even when you’re heading out for a night on the tiles.
(f) Don’t blaspheme or swear in public. Doing so is frowned upon at the best of times, of course, but during the whole month of Ramadan it’s particularly insulting.
(g) Do listen to your iPod if you want your music fix – so long as the music is inaudible to others you should be OK.
(h) Do make the most of the community spirit and food to be found in the iftar tents at the city’s hotels. It’s a great opportunity to relax, play games and experience traditional Arabic entertainment.
(i) Do eat at home before heading out for the night – restaurants and tents will be packed.
Non-Muslims can eat anytime in non-public places but it has to be done discreetly. In my case, I intentionally trimmed my consumption a week ago to prepare for Ramadan. I must admit though that during the first working day, I had a bad headache because of hunger and thirst. Zero food from 7:30 AM until 3:30 PM is manageable for me. But no liquid intake (especially that I’m an advocate of eight glasses of water a day) is disturbing.
Lucky are those who have access to the pantry or are in closed cubicles (unlike mine which is all glassed up + the religious observers around me). If I’m lucky, just like yesterday, I manage to munch on (as quiet as possible) a bar of Twix inside the washroom. I’m very careful in leaving traces since sense of smell functions at its best when one’s hungry.
I was discussing with an Emirati colleague whose brother is an Imam (religious leader) about Ramadan peculiarities and I’m glad to be re-oriented/oriented more. Such that:
(a) It teaches Muslims self-discipline, humility and giving. Aside from the required donation of AED 15 per member of the family and discretionary help to the needy, women are obliged to gather all their jewelries (gold and diamonds, UAE Nationals have much I tell you) and these will be weighed per owner; 2.5% of the market value of the jewelries is the amount obliged to be donated. While for men, 2.5% of their income from different sources (jewelries included) is required to be donated. All the donations go to Red Crescent. I told her it’s like another means of taxation, except that collections directly go to the needy.
(b) Praying is increased from the ordinary five to 20 times a day during Ramadan.
(c) The devils/demons are said to be imprisoned during the season. Hence, this is a perfect time to assess their intentions. Since they are free from evil influences during Ramadan, whatever not so good things that they feel would probably mean that these are inherent at the moment and must be resolved.
(d) During the last 10 days of Ramadan, they would not/would hardly sleep. They were oriented that during this period, there is an hour that Allah will come and will grant whatever they wish. No one would want to miss this. The innocent me asked, “How would you know it’s THAT hour?” She beamed, “We would know, we would all feel it, the color of the skies will change, all the signs will be there.”
The truth is non-Muslims should not feel bad about the changes that Ramadan brings. It takes a heart to know where they are coming from and to appreciate the reasons why they are doing it. What makes this bearable for me is when I put myself in their shoes. Sense of respect matters a lot.