Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ramadan Kareem

Since I started my blog right in the middle of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, I figured I needed to explain a little about it as my future blogs will most likely make reference to it in some way or another. The season holds the same importance of the Christian birth of Christ and the crucifixion. In an effort to be accurate about my facts, I am going to take some information straight from two different publications: The Pearl and Time Out Abu Dhabi. Both are reliable sources with good information.

Ramdan is the month when, according to the Islamic faith, the Holy Quran was recited to the Prophet Mohamed by the Archangel Gabriel. It is a time for inner reflection, devo-
tion to God, and self-control. Muslims think of it as a kind of tune-up for their spiritual
lives. Most people associated Ramadan with fasting, of course, however it is a time for separating the physical from the spiritual. It is a time to focus on the soul, so this is why Muslims deny the physical body from sunrise to sunset by fasting from food or water. That includes no drinks or food whatsoever, no smoking, and abstaining from intimacy. The aim of the fasting to remind one of the many people who are starving in the world, so when you fast you feel exactly what they feel. It is suppose to make you more thankful. Ramadan is also a time of intensive worship, reading of the Qur'an, charity, purifying one's behavior, and doing good deeds.
The daily period of fasting starts at the breaking of dawn and ends at the setting of the sun. The usual practice is to have a pre-fast meal (suhoor) before dawn and a post-fast meal (iftar) after sunset. The last ten days of Ramadan are a time of special spiritual power as everyone tries to come closer to God through devotions and good deeds. The night on which the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to the Prophet, known as the Night of Power (Lailat ul-Qadr), is generally taken to be the 27th night of the month. The Qur'an states that this night is better than a thousand months. Therefore many Muslims spend the entire night in prayer.

During the month, Muslims try to read as much of the Qur'an as they can. Most try to read the whole book at least once. Some spend part of their day listening to the recitation of the Qur'an in a mosque. Food in Ramadan

Since Ramadan is a special time, Muslims in many parts of the world prepare certain favorite foods during this month. It is a common practice for Muslims to break their fast at sunset with dates (iftar), following the custom of Prophet Muhammad. This is followed by the sunset prayer, which is followed by dinner. Since Ramadan emphasizes community aspects and since everyone eats dinner at the same time, Muslims often invite one another to share in the Ramadan evening meal.

The main attraction is probably the Iftars. All major hotels and restaurants in town offer an iftar at sunset. The food served is for the most part Middle Eastern and Khaleeji (from the Gulf) cuisine, such as Ouzi, Harissa, Samak, etc. After the Iftars, people head to outdoor majlis where they can sit and chat with friends and family while drinking tea, or other beverages, and smoke sheesha. Again all hotels set up Majlis and some of them have wonderful “oud” (lute) players to entertain their guests. Restaurants are closed during daylight hours, with the exception of a few hotel restaurants that serve non-Muslims only. Restaurants will begin serving food at sundown.

During Ramadan giving to charity is important. It’s customary to give one’s regular street cleaner or household help a tip during the month or a monetary gift for the Eid.

Both Muslims and non-Muslims are expected to adopt appropriate behaviour during the month of Ramadan. The laws are strict and, if reported, arrests can occur for what seems to us like a minor infraction. However, Muslims take it very seriously.

One cannot sing or dance in public at any time. Restaurants and clubs that provide live entertainment cannot do so during Ramadan.

No loud music at anytime in your car, on the beach, or at home is allowed.

No revealing or tight clothing is allowed.

No smoking, drinking, eating, or chewing gum in public in daylight hours is allowed. The mall stores and restaurants close during the day. A few stores remain open or have odd hours during the day and open at sunset until midnight or later.

No swearing in public.

As with any religion, you have very devoted and faithful followers and those who are more lax. I am reminded a lot of the people who never attend church except on Easter morning. I think it is the same here. The less faithful still participate fully in Ramadan. Also, as with other religious cultures, there is a commercialization of the holiday. All the hotels offer Iftar buffets and special dinners at high costs. All the stores offers Ramadan discounts and have special promotion during the season. The malls are much like Christmas Eve on Friday nights (Friday is the regular holy day of the week----the same as our Sunday). It is also a season of gift giving and charitable works.

The Sheikh (the leader of the country who is a royal prince) has a huge Iftar dinner near the large Mosque which served 15,000 workers just yesterday. Although anyone can attend, it is his way of giving to the many laborers who work in this country. So many of them cannot begin to afford the fancy hotel meals. It is truly a spirit of giving. The Sheikh is extremely charitable with his vast amounts of money.

I hear a lot of expatriates complain about Ramadan as it is an inconvenience. Work hours are shortened for all Muslims and it is often difficult to get things done during Ramadan. Taxis are often difficult to find during certain times of the day. Traffic is awful in the afternoons when everyone is rushing home to prayer and Iftar. People are grumpy because they are hungry, thirsty, and HOT. Because it is not the custom of non-Muslims, I find that many are not very tolerant of the occasion. Some even leave the country during Ramadan.

Now maybe it is because I am a newbie and I haven't experienced it long enough, but I don't feel overly inconvenienced. Yes, it is difficult to find lunch during the day on a shopping excursion; and you have to put a water bottle in your bag and sip on it in the restroom stall behind closed doors if you want to drink something. However, difficult it may be for us, it is more difficult for them because they are fasting and not getting much sleep because of prayer time. After sunset is also like a big festival where everyone celebrates the end of the day and making it through the fast. They even put up lights like we do at Christmas.

My point is that their Ramadan is really not any different than our Christmas celebration. I know we don't fast, but the Catholics fast on Fridays and many churches celebrate Lent. I find that I want to be tolerate of their holiday. After all, it is a time of spiritual reflection and trying to look inward to improve your spiritual life----the same as Christians do when they are mindful of their sins and repent. How bad can that be?

So, Happy Ramadan.

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