Where exactly did the last 12 lunar months go? It seems like only yesterday that our stomachs craved for food during the day, and then craved space after feasting at night. And now the countdown is upon us, the talk is all about on which day the first of Ramadan will fall. The predicted date is the 3rd of October, but depending on the moon, it could go a day either way. In any case, within a few days, the fasting and feasting will begin.
So, what is Ramadan? This month's edition, will give you the low down on Ramadan, its significance and let you know how life changes in this part of the world. The facts are this: Ramadan is the ninth lunar month of the Muslim calendar and occurs about 11 days earlier every Gregorian year. Realise this - in a few years time, the month of fasting will fall slap bang in the middle of summer. Dehydration will hit hard then for sure.
The start and end of the month is determined by the sighting of the new moon. The word 'Ramadan' comes from the Arabic root word 'Ramida' meaning 'scorched heat' or 'parched thirst'. And if you have fasted before, especially in this part of the world, you will understand those terms completely. The month holds special importance since the Quran, the Holy Book of the Muslims, was first revealed to the Prophet during Ramadan. Furthermore, fasting is recognised by Muslims around the world as one of the 5 pillars of Islam; the others being faith, prayer, charity and the pilgrimage.
But Ramadan fasting is not just about the food: no food, no drink, no cigarettes and no sexual relations during the day time. It is evident that people could get a little agitated, especially if you are the type to get frisky during the day. Saying that, lies, slander, greed and backbiting all nullify the fast. So it is a time for restraint - goodwill to all men, tidings of comfort and joy, and all that. With a growing expatriate population in the UAE, the country's laws demand that public eating and drinking is banned and so non Muslims working here must also restrain themselves. Despite this law against eating and drinking in public, depending on the company you work for, many are catered for. Some companies arrange rooms for those that are not fasting, so they can carry on as normal. However, many non Muslims here keep it real and don't consume. Whether someone is fasting or not is given away by needing to relieve themselves - the basics of life are used to determine if you are cheating!
In this part of the world, the phrase used to greet during Ramadan, is 'Ramadan Kareem' meaning 'Ramadan is generous'. But how can not getting any food be generous? Well, Ramadan is a time for giving. People give to the poor, and help out their fellow man. Charity tents are erected for those who wish to donate to the needy, charity desks abound and, oh yeah, there are also some good sales on in the stores. Furthermore, the feasting when the fast breaks is magnanimous to say the least, with servings especially generous!
The fast is during the daylight hours, from dawn to dusk, which, this year, in the Middle East, falls between 600am to 600pm, roughly. So, essentially, you should wake to eat in the morning (This meal is called 'Suhoor'), and then stop at the call to prayer and not have anything until after prayer at about 6pm. The meal to break the fast is called 'Iftar' and so to lure in the hungry masses, many restaurants serve Iftar buffets. Iftar buffets for remarkably inexpensive prices are offered where you can 'eat as much as you want'. (Pizza Hut, last year, offered an unlimited pizza for about 17 Dirhams or 2 UK Pounds! KFC are offering unlimited chicken this year for 22 Dirhams!) Saying that, it's more of an 'eat as much as you CAN', since everyone's stomach has contracted during the day. Famished fasters staring down at their pizza slice, waiting for the sunset, can only be compared to investors ready to sign up for the latest IPO that have been prevalent in the UAE recently.
To cater for the difficulties of fasting, UAE labour law prescribes a reduction in office hours by two which means that the official 7-3 would becomes 8-2, for example. Bear in mind, though, that for some this is factored into the yearly work plan and many account for Ramadan being a 'dead' month, work- wise. If you consider that, in addition, the summer months, which are also not very productive since most employees take their annual leave to avoid the scorching heat, there is about 3 months of inactivity per year; remarkable for such a fast growing nation. Seriously though, the most productive time is between 10 and 12 in the morning, when people are relatively fresh and are willing to commit. However, the real business takes place way into the night in the 'Shisha Tents'. Some of the most important decisions about the direction of companies and, indeed, the direction of the country are made sipping on tea and smoking on grapeshisha, or other flavours, of course.
Some restaurants and many nightclubs are closed since an alcohol ban is enforced across the Emirates during the month. However, some places in Dubai, with its focus on growing tourism continue to serve alcohol during Ramadan, to keep the punters happy. With a ban on music being played, the strangest thing is a nightclub, filled with revelers with no tunes to boogie on down to.
Other things of note during the month are: a predominance of dates being sold at the super markets, since the date along with water is used to break the fast; petrol stations offering free dates and water to travelers on the road needing to break their fast; and the car accident rate increasing in the half hour before iftar with people rushing home to be with their families. There are also extra prayers called Taraweeh, specific to this month - and Muslims try and read as much of the Quran as they can. The last 10 days of the month becomes especially significant since it is believed that the Quran was revealed during this time. Although the actual date is unknown, many Muslims believe that it was the 27th night of the month, and many stay up praying during the whole night.
And so night becomes day - malls are open until 1am, shisha tents until 3, and then the call to prayer hits just before 6am. We've heard of the 'Ramadan Police' who dish out penalties for eating on the street, but I think it's all hearsay. Sounds like a good story though, but most people are considerate and live by the law of the land.The one thing that is unavoidable is the real need for everyone to sort their halitosis out. Given that no food or drink goes down people's throats for 12 hours, you can understand that the bad breath may kick in.
A final thing about Ramadan: the gates to heaven are open and hell is shut, so they say. His Highness Sheikh Zayed passed during Ramadan last year, and this thought will surely be with UAE Nationals and, indeed, many of the expats this year. The holiday of Eid al Fitr will mark the end of Ramadan after a lunar month (around the end of October). Suitably, this means 'Festival of the Breaking of the Fast'. Or really, festival of the feast - it's a time for everyone to chump and chew, overeat and be merry, similar to Christmas or Thanksgiving. Similarities all across this great world we live in.
We bid you an early Ramadan Kareem - enjoy the month!
Remember, if anyone asks, tell them you heard it on the Grapeshisha. Smoke you later!