July 03, 2015

Ramadan a special month for UAE expats, natives

A Ramadan-inspired lecture or “majlis”, held at a Dubai mall.

Dubai - The special spirit of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time when daily life slows down and more focus is placed on charity and caring, is commonly felt by Gulf nationals and expatri­ates. Fasting at this time of the year, when days are the longest and temperature at their highest, is no easy feat.

Mario Volpi, an Italian real estate professional who has been in Dubai for seven years, has observed fast­ing on several occasions along with his Muslim colleagues and friends. “Personally, I find (fasting) not that difficult,” he said. “The harshest part, though, is not to partake any liquid and that is remarkable about those who abstain.”

For Australia’s Jonathan Brad­ford, Ramadan is a unique experi­ence. “I find life at this time of the year different from anything I had experienced at home. While back home practically everything shuts down by evening, here you find the city coming to life after 9pm,” Bradford said. “You can go out and do many things, like visiting a den­tist or taking your car for service.”

Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a time when the spirit of virtue, compassion and harmony is practiced by Muslims across the globe.

The emphasis during Ramadan is on spiritual transformation from within, according to Nasif Kayed, managing director of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU). “Rama­dan in the UAE and Gulf is special in terms of bonding and closeness between the younger and older generations of a family. Here you can see many generations living to­gether and observing Ramadan in a very traditional way,” Kayed said.

Operating under the banner of “Open Doors-Open Minds”, the SMCCU is a non-profit organisation designed to increase awareness and understanding between the many cultures in the UAE. It strives to remove barriers between people of different nationalities and back­grounds while raising awareness about local culture and Islam.

“The Ramadan spirit permeates everywhere, whether at home or outside. Anyone visiting the UAE or any other Gulf country can ex­perience and feel its spirit,” Kayed said.

What an outsider will notice is that “there is less activity during the day and at night people tend to be more outgoing. Offices and work places curtail their daily work by around two hours to cope with the rigours of fasting,” he added. He said people are inclined towards worship during Ramadan and more eager to do charitable and volun­teer work.

Dubai, one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, known for its beaches, shopping festivals, nightlife and restaurants, introduces special guidelines and restrictions during Ramadan.

Moderation in dress and behav­iour are required. “One cannot eat, drink or smoke in public dur­ing fasting hours. (Visitors have) to respect and adhere to the rules and protocols in a Muslim society and enjoy the Ramadan spirit,” Kayed said.

As part of his mission as a cul­tural ambassador, Kayed meets foreign expatriates and visitors to the UAE who are curious about Is­lam and its customs and traditions. “Their most common queries re­late to dress, food, prayer, fasting and women’s rights,” he said. “I at­tempt to explain the thinking and reasons behind each of these facets of our life as well as religion and culture.”

Bradford, even after living in the UAE for a decade, said he is still taken in by the unique charm that Ramadan offers to a foreigner like him.

“Everyone is so welcoming,” Bradford said. “When I go for my walk in the evening, I see people offering iftar (sunset fast-breaking meal). Neighbours you have not seen lately come around offering you coffee. It is a very nice feeling.”

Ramadan-inspired lectures high­lighting religious and social issues, events, activities and stage shows for children are scheduled across the UAE throughout the holy month. The retail sector also gets in on the Ramadan sprit, coming up with a number of special offers.

One of the eagerly awaited events of the season is the Ramadan Night Market in Dubai, a ten-day shop­ping fiesta at Dubai’s World Trade Centre.

“Despite a plethora of shopping options and world-class malls in Dubai, Ramadan Night Market has become very popular within just three years of its launch because it has a unique charm, offering visi­tors extraordinary shopping as well as family bonding opportunity,” said Sunil Jaiswal, president of Su­mansa Exhibitions, organisers of the Ramadan Night Market.

Ramadan is also about caring for the poor and needy. Local and in­ternational charities organise fund­raising events to help the poor. The Abu Dhabi-based Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Foundation has a com­prehensive programme, running for the past eight years, to provide Ramadan food assistance around the world in coordination with the Emirates Red Crescent and UAE embassies.

This year, the foundation is pro­viding nearly 2 million iftar meals to be distributed throughout the UAE as well as hundreds of thou­sands of food parcels to be sent abroad to 56 countries, including Syria, Yemen and Sudan.

People living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will also receive the packages.

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