Today is the first day of Ramadan.
In the UAE this means that our work schedule will change. Because of the fast, no one is allowed to work more than six-hour shifts according to UAE law. Although I am not Muslim, I will observe Ramadan hours. This is exciting news for me — I will work 8am to 2pm everyday, and then I think I will enjoy the pool for the afternoon! All people are asked to respect the fast of others by not eating or drinking in public areas so, although the temperatures may reach 118 degrees pool side, I will not be drinking from my water bottle.
Ramadan is a Muslim holiday — the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is a month of fasting, in which Muslims refrain from eating and drinking. The fast is intended to teach Muslims about patience and humility. They are fasting for the sake of Allah (God), and offer more prayer than on an average day. The dates of Ramadan vary, moving backwards by about eleven days each year depending on the moon. This ensures that a person will have fasted every day of the calendar year over 34 years’ time. Muslims believe Ramadan is a special month for the revelations of Allah to humankind. It is believed to be the month in which the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the prophet, Muhammad.
Many of my Muslim friends will not work during this month. Instead, they will shift their hours of being awake. These people will sleep during the day and be awake during the night time, while the sun is down and they are allowed to eat. The meal that breaks the fast at night after their Maghrib prayer (fourth prayer of the five daily prayers) is called an Iftar. It is a huge meal where the friends and families will sit together to break their fast. As you can imagine, these meals are quite a celebration each night.
I will certainly have the opportunity to share in a few of these meals with friends and neighbors. This brings me to the exciting part of the celebration — the season of Ramadan feels a bit like Christmas to me. I know this is a strange comparison, but when you walk into the grocery store, “Ramadan Kareem” is written everywhere, there are all sorts of sales on dates and chocolates, and food is being sold in unusually large bulk. Everyone everywhere is preparing for the excitement of the season when life slows down and families gather every night, and that extended time focused on community and family celebration reminds me of Christmastime in the States.