Month: September 2009

Ejo #9 – Ramadan In Dubai (What It Means And What To Expect)

It’s been a while between drinks, hasn’t it?  Fear not, the ejo’s are not drying up, merely gathering steam in order to (hopefully) entertain and inform you.  For those of you new to the ejo, welcome and enjoy.

 

So, what have David and I been up to?  Well we’ve been quite busy, and allowed our itchy feet to take us where they will.  Since the last ejo we’ve been to Thailand and Jordan but what I’d really like to talk to you about in this email is our experience of Ramadan.  Now, before I packed up to move to a Muslim country, I’d certainly heard of Ramadan but I had no real concept of what it meant, or entailed.  Following is what I’ve learnt:

 

Ramadan is the name of the 9th month of the Islamic Calendar in the same way that September is the 9th month of our Gregorian Calendar.  Unlike our calendar though the Islamic one is based on lunar sightings and so is unfixed, changing from year to year (on average it starts 11 days earlier than the year before).  Ramadan is also the month during which the first verses of the Quran are said to have been revealed to the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).  This is kinda comparable to Moses bringing the ten commandments down the mountain but in fact much more important because it is considered the birth of Islam.  Exciting stuff huh?

 

Sooooo, to honour this major event (and because Allah told them to), Muslims around the world undertake to fast.  This means no eating, drinking, smoking, chewing gum, singing, dancing, swearing, thinking impure thoughts, playing music or showing affection in public during daylight hours.  (Daylight is deemed to have commenced at the first moment the naked eye can discern a white thread from a black one.)  The purpose of all this restraint is to separate the person’s physical body with their spiritual self.  It’s a time of increased spirituality, more intense praying and an opportunity to commune with Allah.

 

For us non-Muslims, it’s an opportunity to experience enforced denial (at least in public) of things you wouldn’t even think twice about before doing.  Things like having a sip of water when you’re thirsty, of going out to grab a bite to eat for lunch, and during this time, even holding hands with your partner is frowned upon.  If you are caught, say drinking water in public, the police may just give you a warning, but it is completely within their rights to throw you in jail for the remainder of the festival (yes, it’s considered a festival, go figure!!).

 

It is a really difficult thing to do (especially refraining from drinking liquid all day long when the temperatures right now are getting up to 42C/107F) and I especially feel sorry for the Indian construction workers who are outdoors for 12 hours a day.  They’re not even Muslim but they still have to deny themselves a drink of water.  It doesn’t exactly seem fair, and I’m not sure what Allah would think of it. But I don’t want to give the wrong impression.  I do admire and respect the basic principle behind it.

 

The daily highlight of Ramadan is, of course, the breaking of the fast after sundown.  This is called ‘iftar’ and the custom is to just eat a couple of dates initially in order to get the digestive system ready for the feast ahead.  And what a feast it is!!  Traditionally, a small animal (goat, sheep) is slaughtered as sacrifice, and then roasted to tender, succulent perfection to reward all those who have fasted during the day.  Occasionally this still occurs.  While driving through Jordan, David saw them slit a lamb’s throat, right out there on the road, and drain the blood in a bucket (halal style).  But it is more common these days for several families to get together each night and for each family to bring several small dishes of food, resulting in a massive and delicious buffet meal.  Yum!  Unfortunately we haven’t been invited to iftar this year but I’ll be angling for an invite next year for sure – especially if there’s a goat or sheep involved.

 

During Ramadan, all the big 5 star hotels make up for not serving food during the day by erecting enormous, air-conditioned Iftar Tents and then put on a huge buffet feast, kind of trying to replicate the traditional family breaking of the feast.  The other big eating time of day (or night, rather) is called Suhoor, and it’s the big feast before sunrise (or before you can tell that white thread from the black).  So people get up at 4am to stuff their faces with what is usually a very heavy, rich meal (to stave off the future hunger for as long as possible), and drink litres of water before going back to bed.  I’m not convinced this is the healthiest thing in the world to do but then again, I’m not the one fasting, so I’ll just shut up.  I’m pretty sure I’d be eating non-stop from iftar to suhoor, so there you go.

 

Being a Muslim country, the city, very thoughtfully, makes it pretty easy for the fasters.  As I’ve said, eating, drinking and chewing in public are basically illegal.  To that effect most cafes, restaurants, bars etc are closed during the day, and those that are open (to cater to non-Muslims) must conceal their dining areas behind screens or by blacking out the windows (alcohol is not permitted to be served anywhere in the city until after sundown).  I’ll tell you what, it’s a strange experience to walk through a mall foodcourt, usually buzzing with hundreds of people munching and slurping away, and to see it completely empty, tumbleweeds blowing past (well, not really but it conjures an image, no?).

 

Of course Islam seems to be a very reasonable religion, so the elderly, physically and mentally ill, children, pregnant and menstruating women are exempt from fasting.  Depending on the reason, a person will either be required to make up the missed fasting days at a later stage, or they must pay enough to feed one poor person for every day that they miss.  How much more reasonable can you get?

 

Anyway, Ramadan segues beautifully into my next ejo (coming out soon) which is about our trip to Jordan.  Funny story actually.  David had some leave from work and we thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to get out of Dubai during Ramadan?”.  So we looked up the special fares that Emirates Airlines (our preferred airline of course) was offering during the period and we booked an AMAZING deal to Jordan.  About five minutes after we’d booked and paid for the tickets, we looked at each other and one of us (I can’t remember who) said, “Do they follow Ramadan in Jordan?”.  To which the answer turned out to be: DO THEY EVER!!

 

We weren’t going to let a little thing like that stop us enjoying our twelve days in Jordan though (being the bold travellers that we are).  And this is where I’ll leave you.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my little lesson about Ramadan (I do like to share everything that I learn here and I hope I’m not stuffing it down your throats). 

 

Kisses to all
Chryss

 

PS David says hi