The UAE (United Arab Emirates) is a Muslim country. So here in Dubai, as elsewhere in the UAE, Ramadan is observed. I thought that it would be a very difficult time to move to Dubai – and in some ways it has been – but I am so glad that we are in Dubai to see and to experience Ramadan.
I am sad to admit that I did not know what Ramadan was, really, or exactly how important it is to Muslims until I moved here. Here in Dubai it is as visible as Christmas is to us in the United States every December. I wish I had known what Muslim friends were doing/going through/experiencing during Ramadan in the States (I am afraid that most of the time, I did not even know when Ramadan was in the States). I am sad that I and many in the U.S. (including our President) have failed to seek fuller understanding of the Muslim faith and its practice, especially as I come to know, learn about and respect Muslims here in Dubai.
Whether it is Ramadan or not, Muslims always pray five times a day, every day – the hauntingly beautiful call to prayer (“Adhan”, from a root that means “to listen”) can be heard all over the city, no matter where you are. The mosques broadcast the call to prayer from loudspeakers contained in their minarets – and there are mosques everywhere here, including behind our hotel.
I know that if I prayed five times a day on a regular basis I would be a better person, so I vowed to pray every time I hear the call to prayer. That didn’t last long. I began to not notice the call to prayer as much *unless* I was listening for it at the appointed time (the times are fairly regular, and the exact times are printed in the newspaper daily). Muslims hear it and they pray each time. Prayer is an integral part of their daily lives.
In addition to five times a day prayer (which is year round) during Ramadan, Muslims fast completely – no food, nothing to drink, not even water – from sunup to sundown (so from about 4am to 7:30pm here in Dubai). They perform acts of charity and generosity and offer special prayers. In Dubai, no one can eat or drink in public out of respect for the Muslims fasting. Restaurants that are open (and most are closed) shield windows from public view. I have difficulty enough with this limited restriction on my consumption – having to duck into a restroom now and then to eat a banana and drink some water, having to search for an open restaurant – that it gives me deep regard for those who do this month long. Many of our taxi drivers are Muslim, fasting, and yet working hard throughout the day, being friendly through it all (and I know that there are many other workers here doing the same thing).
What a whiner I am. So I have to search out my coffee shop behind a curtain – to enjoy my “date chai latte”. Flow is my new favorite coffee shop – (in Emirates Towers in Dubai). Open during Ramadan, but behind a curtain as required.
Ramadan is in June this year – but it’s not at the same time every year, because it is determined by the lunar calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar. Thus it moves up about eleven days each year. Its start and end, further, are determined by the moon and so can’t be exactly predetermined. The end of Ramadan (the end of June this year) is celebrated with gatherings of families and gifts for children. But unlike our December 25th Christmas, each Ramadan comes at a different time.
What is it about? It is the time Muslims believe God (Allah) revealed the first verses of the Koran. It is a beautiful time to be in Dubai. Not an easy time, but a beautiful time, and I am glad to be here.