Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ramadan - The Holy Month

On our flight back from the US the other day,  I popped a piece of gum in my mouth as we began our decent into Abu Dhabi and offered one to my Hubby.  We both began to chew frantically hoping to reduce the pressure in our ears as we were lowered nearer the airport.  After a few minutes, Hubby tapped me on the shoulder and shoved a tissue into my face and gesturing with his hands to put my gum in the tissue.  We had forgotten Ramadan!  And chewing gum in public is forbidden during Ramadan.  Whew!  That would have been a bad thing to do.

Not that anyone would have said anything but it would have been disrespectful to chew gum in public.
So I pulled out my Ramadan Guidebook to remind me of the do's and don'ts during Ramadan.

A few rules to remember during Ramadan

Don’t eat or drink in the presence of Muslims during the daylight hours.  Muslims are fasting during daylight hours and are strictly forbidden to take anything by mouth.
Most restaurants are open only after sunset during Ramadan.
Don’t have food or snacks in plain sight during Ramadan.
Don’t smoke or chew gum in the presence of Muslims during Ramadan.
Don’t use profane words or gestures during Ramadan.
Most women will be veiled and covered throughout this time.
Muslim families will gather together daily after sundown to celebrate the end of the fast.  Don’t be alarmed if you see large groups of families gathering in homes or mosques.
Expect celebratory gunfire during Eid al-Fitr

Avoid the following cultural insensitivities:
Do not be seen consuming alcohol.
No Smoking in Public (you will be issued a citation and
  fined for smoking or drinking)
Profane or derogatory gestures.
Arguing and shouting.
Loud music and profane language.
Eating meals in the presence of Muslims during daylight – also you will not find a restaurant open during the daylight.

Some may think that Ramadan is oppressive, but actually it is not.  Yes, having to search for a restaurant that is open during Ramadan (usually one that can seal off the diners from public view) in the daylight hours is somewhat daunting and an inconvenience, however, Ramadan is not all that bad.  I find that I want to stay indoors during this time of year anyway because of the heat.  So I don't get out as much.   Ramadan is much harder for Hubby as he works in an office environment where he is the only American and Non-Muslim.  So, he must be very respectful and not eat or drink during the day.   The last two mornings I have prepared him a hardy breakfast with lots of protein in hopes of helping him make it through the day.  Fortunately, his work day ends at 2:00 and Ramadan hours have him going in to the office much later around 9:00.  

One thing that is nice about Ramadan is the focus on charitable initiatives.  Many charitable organizations around the country distribute Iftar meals (the breaking of fast meal after sunset each day) to the poor and needy.  Ramadan definitely highlights the spirit of giving of the season---much like western nations during the Christmas season.  

Two organizations I have read about recently is The Community Development Authority and the Khalifa Foundation.

Video: Healthy fasting tips - recovery after Ramadan     The CDA has a Ramadan campaign that includes serving Iftar meals, giving essential food baskets, and visiting the elderly.  The month long program is called Yestahloon (colloquial for "well deserved") and is held in collaboration with 23 social clubs and private sector organizations.  At least 1.5 million Dirhams ($408K) of donations will be used to reach the blue collar workers, families, and elderly around Dubai.  For example, one company provides money, another prepares the food, and another delivers it.  Volunteers do a ton of the work.  
                 The Khalifa Foundation hosts its fourth annual Ramadan Iftar initiative serving nearly 1.76 million Iftar meals  throughout the UAE during Ramadan.  Amazing.  1.76 million meals!  Empowering 600 Emirati families.  Here's how it works:
Lower income families are encouraged to prepare Iftar meals for Muslims and the foundation provides them with the ingredients.  The objective is to distribute 58,700 iftar meals daily.  This helps boost the family's income and encourage them to set up a business that will help with financial independence.  The foundation provides the ingredients and services.  They have inspection teams from the Foundation and the Public Safety making random visits to ensure food safety.

I am always amazed at the enormity of these projects.  The Sheikh Zayed Mosque here in Abu Dhabi serves thousands of meals each evening for all the laborers in the city.  I have never been but I have seen some amazing photos of the event.  The city also provides free bus transportation from the labor camps to the Mosque for worship and Iftar meals. 

We are heading to a local restaurant with friends on Thursday night for an Iftar celebration.  It is a chance to celebrate with the  Muslim community and participate in an event that is a cherished celebration throughout the country.  Lavish buffets are served in restaurants throughout the community to allow the Muslim community to participate in their traditions.  It is truly a unique experience and one that expatriates love to share.  

Ramadan Kareem!

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