Largest chandelier in the world, at the main dome of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE. This mosque is no. 2 on TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice World’s Most Beloved Landmarks in 2015. You may check the blog entry I wrote in early 2012.
I am quite amazed at how my perception changed about observing Ramadan from close to hating it to willingly embracing it at the moment as an expat and Non-Muslim who is on her 8th Ramadan in an Islamic country (UAE). I remember my first Ramadan when I had to eat inside a washroom (toilet) and other unbelievable and crazy things I did and thought of to survive and not offend those who were fasting. I realized that my untowardness at the early years mainly emanated from lack of preparation, limited empathy and focusing on my own interest and excuses of being a newbie in UAE. Fast forward to 2016, I am glad that I was able to walk away from that immaturity by trying to understand how meaningful Ramadan is and the beauty of it. Why do I look forward to observing the holy month of Ramadan?
- People from my work and outside work tend to be so at peace, reflective and at their most kind state. That is a general observation about Muslims. For non-Muslims, they tend to be extra jolly. Probably because of numbers 2 and 3 (see below points).
- Office hours is shortened by 2 hours. For some offices, they even offer flexible working hours as long as the employee will complete the 6 hours service (i.e. from the usual 8 hours).
- Business meetings are encouraged to be held in the morning while those who are fasting still have more energy. Due to shortened office hours, the meetings are designed to more straightforward. I am a fan of morning meetings, as early as possible. Well, I hate going around in circles during discussions although I understand it is sometimes an element of getting what we want to achieve.
- Paid parking timing is reduced. (Here is the link to the Ramadan timings parking.)
- Iftar invitation from locals. It is not about being invited to a free dinner. However, experiencing iftar (i.e. the meal to break the fast) inside the house of the local is a once in a lifetime experience because you get to experience the Arabian hospitality during this holy month. More than that, it is heartwarming to witness/ be part of the celebration of togetherness as they merrily feast over the home cooked meals.
- There are promotions (discounts) almost everywhere. In malls, theme parks, and more. In the past, most of my purchases and visit to some attractions were always deferred until the generous margin drop off came along. This year, in time for Ramadan, I was able to avail of a 40% discount in booking airplane tickets.
- It is an opportunity to trim weight. While I am not a Muslim, I do try to fast (no food/ liquid intake) during the office hours as respect to my Muslim colleagues. While there is a designated dining area for those who are not fasting, I opine that it would be good to empathize with them, at least while in the office. I admit though that there might be days when it would be unbearable and I would need to at least drink. (Note: Restaurants are open but only offers take away orders, however, it is usual business at night.)
- There seems to be a general reduction in noise. Apparently, playing music is discouraged particularly at public places. You may play music in the car and house as long as it is kept low.
- There are bountiful of charitable works happening. However, please beware of non-residents who take advantage of the holy month as some of them pretend to be beggars (begging is not permitted in this country). These charitable works have to be coursed through Red Crescent and other organizations. At work place, it is quite common to gather funds for less fortunate staff who have needs for their vacation at their home country or other reasons.
- As the Ramadan concludes, the Eid celebration tends to be very colorful and indeed jovial. In a way, it looks and feels like Christmas. If you are a tourist planning to visit UAE, I suggest to not travel during Ramadan as most of the places of interests have limited operating hours, particularly the dining spots. But it would be a great idea to time your visit during the 3-day Eid celebrations.
While there are not so good things that I do not like during Ramadan, such as crazy driving (as some drivers get impatient as they are hungry and/ or lack sleep) particularly when they tend to ‘fly’ in time for iftar, possible decrease in efficiency and effectiveness at work to a certain extent (although it is a calculated risk and is understandable), and people taking advantage of this holy occasion to misrepresent themselves as in need, I still look forward and will always look forward to Ramadan even if I am not a Muslim. Above all the reasons I mentioned, partaking in the sacrifices, togetherness and sharing is what I like best.