Please would you briefly explain the significance of Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar calendar and it’s the month for all Muslims across the world to fast from sunrise to sunset, as instructed by Allah.
Why does Ramadan begin on a different day each year?
The lunar calendar consists of 12 months and follows the cycle of the Moon. Each year Ramadan moves forward 11 days, which means this year Ramadan is proposed to start mid-May. This is why Ramadan moves through the seasons – spring, summer, winter and autumn. The start date of Ramadan may vary from one country to another, depending on if the new Moon has been sighted. We have a Moon-sighting committee here in the UAE, which announces this for us.
Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims fast as an act of worship, as it provides a chance to get closer to God. This month provides all Muslims a chance to correct themselves and improve upon their past mistakes. We have extra prayers in this month called Tarraweh, which happen after the Isha prayer in the evening. And during the last 10 nights of Ramadan we also have night prayers at the mosque, as well as a night called Laylat Al Qadr, or the ‘Night of Power’. This night is in reference to when the first verses of the Holy Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), by Allah. In the Holy Quran it says this night is better than a thousand months, and on this night the angels descend to Earth. We spend this night in worship and reading the Holy Quran. It is a good night to ask for forgiveness.
Fasting doesn’t only mean abstaining from eating and drinking. Please explain more.
Fasting (Sawm) also includes the acts of not sinning, and having good thoughts. It is mind and body together. We are thoughtful of how we behave to others, and of what we say. We also try to do many good things during this time, like acts of charity, reading more of the Holy Quran, praying and getting closer to God and being grateful for all that we have.
How can non-Muslims participate in the month of Ramadan?
You may fast for the experience, but it is important to get up before sunrise and have suhoor (pre-dawn meal). This meal will help you to get through the day – the hours of fasting are long at this time of year. In the winter the fast is shorter as the sunrise is later and the sunset is earlier. You could also join an iftar dinner experience. Every year at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Culture and Understanding we host iftars with a night mosque visit and a walk through the Al Fahidi neighbourhood. Charity is also very important. A lot of people, like our family, cook extra food to share and exchange with their neighbours and the community. My dad invites the labourers in his area to join his iftars – we open up our home, have a kitchen outside and give food, clothes, labneh, and more. This is something anyone can do.
Are there any Emirati dishes that are traditionally served during the Holy Month?
Thareed is one of the most famous dishes we cook. It’s made from very thin – almost shattered – pieces of bread, which we soak in a stew-like broth called saloona. This typically has meat or chicken with vegetables and it’s light, which makes it nice for iftar. Harees is also a popular traditional dish. It’s made from wheat and meat, and looks like porridge. We usually make enough for our home and also to send to our neighbours and the mosque. The fast is always broken with dates and water.