Tomorrow sees the start of our first Ramadan in the UAE, this year coinciding with the hottest part of the year.
A quick overview for those not so familiar with Ramadan. It is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims worldwide fast during daylight hours. Observing the annual fast is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and is obligatory for all adult Muslims, except for those who are ill, travelling or pregnant. The month lasts 29 or 30 days depending on the sighting of the crescent moon. This link to the lunar calendar means that Ramadan moves forward about ten days each year.
Whilst fasting from dawn to sunset (about 15 hours in the UAE at this time of year) Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquid, smoking, and engaging in sexual relations. Each day before dawn many Muslims observe a pre-fast meal or suhoor. And at sunset the fast breaking meal is know as iftar, with many hotels offering special buffets to entice people in.
Non Muslims are expected to respect the fast given that we are guests in a Muslim country, which is fair enough. That said, most offices will make a room available for people not observing the fast to have a sneaky drink or snack, and some restaurants are open during the day with specially screened off sections for non Muslims to go and eat without offending anyone.
Work and school hours change during Ramadan. School starts a little later than normal (8am rather than 7:45am) and finishes at 1pm rather than 2:30pm. I will still start work at 8:30am but will finish two hours earlier than normal at 3:30pm.
To be honest we’re not really sure what to expect, although from listening to the radio, speaking to friends / colleagues, and reading other blogs, the common advice seems to be:
- Do not be seen eating, drinking or smoking in public, and remember that your car is considered to be a public place so the rules apply there just like out in the street. It may be a myth but people have apparently been stopped by the police for breaking this rule.
- Don’t play loud music in your home or car. Ramadan is a time of reflection and loud music isn’t good for this. So Flossie will have to stop blasting One Direction out 24 hours a day, every cloud, etc.
- Rush hour changes from 6pm to 2pm / 3pm because that is when most offices close. Apparently the normally “erratic” driving we see here becomes even more “erratic” when people haven’t eaten for seven or eight hours so one needs to be even more alert than normal. In light of this I’m not sure its a good thing I have at least two days in Dubai this week!
- The driving is even more hazardous at around 6pm when people are rushing home for iftar, so some people advise you to stay off the roads all together at this time.
- Dress more conservatively than usual when out in public.
In terms of doing business, I’m told that things slow down considerably, with people working shorter hours and not being in the mood for work due to frayed tempers. Apparently it is a good time to catch up on things that have been outstanding for a while, or to do some strategic thinking. This remains to be seen, all I know at the moment is my diary this week looks just as packed as always.
Jo has the right idea. The kids finish school on Wednesday, and they are on the first plane out of here on Thursday mainly to escape the heat, but the bonus for them this year will be that they are away for most of Ramadan. I will do my best to enter into the spirit of things by observing the fast, who knows maybe I’ll even manage to lose a few pounds.
I shall return in a few days to let you know how it is going.
As always thanks for reading, until next time, Ramadan Kareem (which I think means “Generous Ramadan” or something similar, anyway it is one of the traditional greetings).