Islam and the Holy Month of Ramadan
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
I didn’t grow up practicing religion. For a few years during my childhood, my family and I attended the Unitarian Universalist church in Wayzata, Minnesota but our attendance dwindled as I got older due to school, sports, and everyday life. To this day, I don’t actively practice any religion but I do practice being respectful and curious towards religions around the world. I find people who actively believe and participate in organized religion to be fascinating and it has been an incredible and educational experience living in the United Arab Emirates during the holy month of Ramadan.
Because the Islamic calendar uses the lunar cycle to keep time, Ramadan falls on a different date every year. This year's Ramadan began on May 17th which was about ten days after last year's starting date. For four weeks, Muslims across the world forgo food and water during daylight hours and practice greater modesty and dedication to Islam. Muslims do this to 1) be closer to their God, Allah; 2) to experience what it is like to go hungry as to develop a greater appreciation for their own privileges; and 3) to practice kindness and charity despite living in difficult conditions. I consider myself lucky to have experienced Ramadan in the United Arab Emirates and am excited to share what I have learned with you!
Walking through the streets of Dubai during the month of Ramadan is pretty incredible. Palm trees are laced with twinkle lights and massive stars and crescent moons can be seen dangling from branches or on buildings. The phrase “Ramadan Mubarak” is exchanged between friends and there is an air of compassion and kindness in the city. As always, the pillars of Islam (faith, prayer, charity, pilgrimage and fasting) are taken to heart, although not every Muslim practices Islam the same way- just as not all Christians or Buddhists, or really anyone practices religion the same way!
The Five Pillars of Islam During Ramadan
Faith: The word Muslim is Arabic for “submitter to God.” Muslims believe in only one God who they call Allah, and believe that the prophet Muhammad is the messenger of God. The Quran is the holy book of Islam and is believed to be the exact revelation of God. During Ramadan, Muslims are extraordinarily devoted to their religion and practice greater modestly, higher levels charity and compassion, and of course, a commitment to their religion.
Prayer: Muslims pray five times a day at the following times: dawn, noon, afternoon, evening, and night. One of my favorite things about living in Dubai is that you can hear the call to prayer numerous times a day if you live near a mosque. To me, this is a reminder to slow down, reflect, and appreciate life- which I think is quite important! During Ramadan, Muslims may spend more time with each prayer or add prayers during the nighttime. Prayers can be done anywhere, but many Muslims enjoy going to mosques as they are able to pray with other Muslims and experience a sense of community. One of my friends was telling me that she feels supported and happy while praying at mosques as everyone is sharing the experience of fasting, religion, and prayer.
Charity: This pillar is considered to be very important during the holy month of Ramadan. People will volunteer, make charitable donations, or practice higher levels of compassion for others. Many businesses will have a “Ramadan Fridge” where they can donate food to be given to people in need. To me, seeing businesses all over Dubai give back and commit to volunteering for charitable causes was really special to me. I think it's important to always remember to be kind, generous, and compassionate towards others and this was definitely the case in Dubai during Ramadan.
Pilgrimage: Ramadan takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and during the twelfth month, one may choose to go on a pilgrimage. At least once in a lifetime, a Muslim is encouraged to travel to Mecca if they are physically and financially able. Though the pilgrimage doesn't take place during Ramadan, I think it is important to note in this blog post! I personally have a limited knowledge on this pillar, but am excited to continue learning about Islam and the pilgrimage as time goes on. As always, you are welcome to comment or share your own experiences on this blog post if you have anything to add! (:
Fasting: To many non-Muslims, the month-long fast during Ramadan attracts the most attention out of all five of the pillars. Before living in Dubai, I knew very little about Ramadan and had many questions for my Muslim friends who were kind enough to share their perspectives with me! During Ramadan, adult Muslims refrain from food and water during daylight hours; children, pregnant women, elderly, or severely ill individuals are exempt from fasting, though it is impolite to eat or drink in front of fasting Muslims. All across Dubai, restaurants are closed, although some remain open for tourists or non-Muslims. The ones that are open are covered with large sheets of fabric that you have to dive through to be able enter the restaurants. One time, I ordered a Starbucks coffee at a local mall which came covered in a paper bag labeled “Kellen” (not my name). I then had to refrain from sipping on my beverage-in-a-bag until I arrived at a blocked off food court, which I 100% understand given the circumstances. Many of my Muslim friends have expressed gratitude for being in Dubai during Ramadan as it is very accommodating to fasting Muslims; in addition to restaurants being blocked off or covered, work hours are shortened to allow for greater care for oneself during the fast and time for practicing Islam. Some of my friends had lived in North America during past Ramadans and said it was very difficult to work full time and be around people who were eating hot food. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for them, but can understand how nice it must be to be in a city that makes it easy to practice their religion freely.
Many of the conversations I had with my friends occurred over Iftar, which is the time of day when Muslims break their fast (around 7:00 p.m.). During Iftar, a Muslim will break his or her fast by drinking water and eating a date which has natural sugars to help reintroduce food into their bodies; since it is unhealthy to go from not eating anything to consuming large amounts of food, this step of Iftar is very important. From there, one will enjoy time with friends or family while eating dinner to provide strength for their bodies. Iftar traditionally is not meant to be flashy or extravagant, but like everything in Dubai, Iftar is world-class! Most restaurants and hotels in the area will have a buffet equipped with dozens of salads, meats (apart from pork), grains, and the best desserts you will ever have in your life. Non-Muslims are welcome to enjoy Iftar as well, and let me tell you- I did just that many times! During Ramadan, I attended three different Iftars and one Suhur. Suhur is a pre-fast meal that is traditionally consumed at dawn; however, many Suhur gatherings take place after Iftar and go late into the night. At the public Suhurs, people will dine, smoke shisha, and gather with friends and family. Though smoking shisha isn’t an activity I participate in, the Suhur I went to was equipped with delicious food, coffee, and you guessed it- desserts- so I was more than happy to be there!
At the end of Ramadan, a celebration called Eid happens. During Eid, Muslims will wear new clothing, celebrate with friends and family, and enjoy delicious food to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Some people even go on holiday as there is usually a long weekend. This year, I was lucky to have gone to Nepal for Eid and it was an amazingly eye-opening experience. My next blog post will cover my experiences in Nepal and debut my first video-blog (vlog) ever! Stay tuned!
Overall, I am incredibly thankful that I had the opportunity to experience Ramadan in Dubai. I think it is so important to learn from other cultures and religions and to respect everyone for their beliefs. This past month has been both educational and inspiring, and I am happy that I can share my experiences with you all. Ramadan Mubarak, everyone!! (: