Ramadan is here! For those that are not aware, Ramadan is a Muslim month of fasting, whereby those that follow Islam refrain from eating, drinking, sexual relations and listening to music between dawn and sunset. It is a time of spiritual reflection and worship.
The rewards of fasting during this sacred month are believed to be multiplied. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene and irreligious sights and sounds. The act of fasting is said to cleanse the soul and free it from harmful impurities. Ramadan also teaches Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control,sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity (Zakat).
There is currently a wonderful peacefulness within the City, however this all changes when the fast is broken. Friends and families gather together for their main meal, called an Iftar which is eaten after sunset. Traditionally, a few dates and either milk or water is taken to break the fast, then the fourth of the five daily prayers are taken before dinner. Some of the foods I have been fortunate (or unfortunate in some cases) to taste at an Iftar are:
Ouzi – which is roasted lamb served on rice with nuts. This is one of my favourite Arabic meal.
Harees – boiled wheat with meat or chicken, with a porridge consistency. Not a fan!
Camel Hump – I would try it again…. the serving I got was quite gamey and chewy ….. tastes like chicken 🙂
Umm Ali – A sumptuous dessert – similar to bread pudding, made with puff pastry.
Camel’s Milk – Served at room temperature….. pass!
Additionally, there is a sense of charity within the City. This is because Muslims believe that all good deeds are more handsomely rewarded in Ramadan than in any other month of the year. Consequently, many will choose this time to give a larger portion, if not all, of the zakat for which they are obligated to give. It is not uncommon to see people giving more food to the poor and the homeless, and even to see large public areas for the poor to come and break their fast (particularly around mosques).
The City has been decorated with lights and crescents. It reminds me of the lead-up to Christmas in Australia. We even have shortened hours at work (six instead of eight). But just like the month of December back home, there are drawbacks. Muslims who are fasting in the hottest month of the year are susceptible to dehydration. They are also more temperamental and the roads that were previously dangerous now become deathly. Due to the get-togethers for Iftar, Muslims are likely to stay up until around 3am when they have their Suhoor – the morning meal before sunrise. Thus they are tired, weak and cranky.
For a westerner, we need to ensure we show respect and consideration. We can not eat or drink in front of a fasting Muslim (this is just polite), nor can we play music loud, or show any signs of affection. For a woman, I must choose my clothing carefully! Alcohol is also hard to come by during the month – but not difficult if you know the places to go!
As a western tourist visiting Abu Dhabi during Ramadan, you would enjoy the sights of the City but also get frustrated during the day – particularly when looking for a place to eat and/or drink!
It is a relaxing and quiet time. I tend to enjoy it, but it is not for everyone!