Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ramadan: Fasting & Feasting

It’s the holy month of Ramadan for our Muslim brothers. Ramadan Kareem! Time for fasting and feasting…

Ramadan, in case you’ve missed your history classes, is a Muslim religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, believed to be the month in which the Koran was revealed to Angel Gabriel, to deliver it to Prophet Muhammad. It is the Islamic month of fasting (sawm) , in which participating Muslims do not eat or drink anything from dawn
until dusk. Fasting is meant to teach the person patience, sacrifice and humility. The fast is intended to be an exacting act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of closeness to God Almighty.

The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. Properly observing the fast is supposed to induce a comfortable feeling of peace and calm. It also allows Muslims to practice self-discipline, sacrifice, and sympathy for those who are less fortunate. It is also intended to make Muslims more generous and charitable. Just the same, Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene and irreligious sights and sounds. Sexual thoughts and activities during fasting hours are also forbidden. Purity of both thought and action is important.

Tough call, isn’t it? Well, maybe that’s the retaliation for having the legal right to marry more than a handful of wives! A month long of sacrifice and abstinence, but just so you know it’s really a sacrifice, paradoxically studies have shown that some populations actually gain weight during Ramadan and it was due to compensatory increased calorie intake overnight. And why not, after they refrain from eating and drinking for half the day, they feast on their Iftar meal (meal to break the fast) and consume it until the brink of dawn so who wouldn’t get bloated with that! But maybe the sacrifice we are talking here is something beyond the worldly affairs, but rather taking a moment to slow down, even for a month, to focus on self reformation, spiritual cleansing and enlightenment, establishing a link between God Almighty and themselves by prayer, supplication, charity, good deeds, kindness and helping others.

In the Philippines where majority of the people are Catholics, appreciation and public awareness of Islamic culture is hardly earned. I remember, when President GMA declared Eid ul Fitr as a legal holiday, we have never taken interest what the hell was it about. All we care was that it’s just another weekend extension and more time to sleep and to eat courtesy of the holiday economics. Besides, I myself have found fasting a preposterous idea, it’s just simply deferring your eating schedule. Not taking anything for hours, then after that, a feast of special foods until the next morning. I thought it would make more sense it they will have to renounce eating and drinking not just for hours but for days. That would be the true test of patience, sacrifice and humility. That way, they wouldn’t just feel how it is to be starving but really get through it the way many people in the world suffers, especially those from poor countries.

But here in Dubai, a genuinely Islamic country clad in modern outfit, the observance of Ramadan by its people is as sacred as it
can be. So for Non-Muslims expatriates like me, it’s always best to just conform to the way things are going. Reserve your opinions and eat plenty when you get home. Our office hours have been reduced by one third, only there’s no lunch break so we are one with them fasting through our empty stomach. Mall shops and restaurants are usually closed during the day and drinking/merry making in bars are prohibited. There’s stampede for bus/taxi as everyone wants to get home to enjoy their meal.

But aside from re
duced working hours and finding reasons not to eat that smelly pork adobo, Ramadan is always one of the best time for shopping. Since it is time for giving and sharing, best buys abound in most marketplaces. Muslims can be seen shopping, eating, spending time with their friends and family during the evening hours but it is the Filipino community here in Dubai who appears to enjoy more and take advantage of the discounted products being sold everywhere. Exhaust that credit limit! This seems to be the battle cry appropriately resounding this season.

The Islamic holiday of Eid ul Fitr marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadan and the first day of the following month, after another new moon has been sighted. It means the Festival of Breaking the Fast and as such a special celebration is made. Food is donated to the poor, everyone puts on their best, preferably new, clothes, and communal prayers are held in the early morning, followed by feasting and visiting relatives and friends. Usually it beckon
s another long weekend where people travel out of Dubai after month of veneration. Of course, Filipinos surely won’t be left behind when it comes to this.

Having Dubai as my second home, has not just helped me provide for my family’s financial needs, but also allowed me to get closer to things which I have taken for granted back home. Being just an expat here, I have gladly obliged respecting their traditions and everything peculiar to their culture. Then all along I was thinking, if we can do it here, then we might do it as well to our beloved country, that is, respecting and appreciating the culture of our brothers in the South despite its disparity from the ones we know.


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