Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ramadan Kareem! Year 3

We're about halfway through Ramadan and it dawned on me that I hadn't posted anything about it. This is our 3rd Ramadan in Abu Dhabi - hard to believe! and every year we learn a bit more about this holy month of the Islamic calendar. A few reminders and new tidbits for all my friends and family back home.

The holy month of Ramadan is the 9th month in the Islamic calendar and is significant because it is believed to be the month that the holy Qur'an was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). It is meant to be a time of reflection, prayer, thanksgiving and celebration.

Most of us non-Muslims know it as a month of fasting from sunup to sundown, but it's much more than that.

But first, that fasting - really? For a whole month from sunrise to sunset? Yes. Really NO food, NO drink, not even water? Yes. For the WHOLE month? Yes. I'm told by my Emiratis colleagues that the first few days are the worst and then you get a bit more used to it and the benefits kick in. The idea is that the empty belly and thirst do wonders in giving you a renewed sense of appreciation for all the blessings you've been given. It's also a humbling reminder of how others in more difficult circumstances may be suffering. The fast is broken with the Maghrib call to prayer at sunset and the meal is called Iftar.

In the work environment, the working hours are shortened by two hours to accommodate those who are fasting. Because we're an international 24/7 airline, a lot of people continue to work similar hours, but you definitely feel the slow down and things wrap up earlier during this month. I was curious about how individuals make this work, so I've been taking advantage of the Emirati relationships I've built over the past year and ask whenever it's appropriate how they do it.  A couple of examples:
  • One of the ladies I know says she leaves work around 3:00 and then sleeps until Iftar (around 7:15 this year). She then has Iftar with her family and they head to the mosque for 2 hours of prayers and reading of the Qur'an. She gets home and watches some TV and hangs out with her family, etc. until about 3:00am when they have Suhoor (the morning meal before sunrise). Sunrise is around 4:00am and she starts her fasting for the day. Yep, only a few hours of sleep a day!
  • Another says he doesn't stay up all night but goes to sleep after the late evening prayer and wakes up for morning prayers at sunrise. He said he's too tired to get up for Suhoor so just fasts from the time he goes to bed at night (probably 11:00-midnight) until Iftar the next day!
With those examples, you can imagine how tired and muddled you might feel for the month. And, while there are reduced working hours, it's still quite a schedule to maintain for a month.

And fasting is more than just the food and drink. In addition, you are not supposed to smoke, engage in sexual relations or have any negative thoughts or deeds. The idea is that you exercise patience and self-restraint in all things from sunrise to sunset. Quite a tall order. Imagine first that it's around 105 degrees F with 40-50% humidity. You've had nothing to eat or drink all day and you're supposed to be patient, forgiving and calm.

We have a work Iftar coming up on Sunday and I and a few other colleagues have decided to fast for the day in our show of support and to try and understand a bit what it's like for our Muslim colleagues. I did it last year and did pretty well - let's see how this year goes. I'll probably have a harder time with the patience and positive thinking than I will with the food and drink! Right, who am I kidding - I'll be day dreaming about food all day long! :)

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