Thursday, 6 August 2009

Preparing for Ramadan in Dubai

Ramadan '09 is expected to commence around 21 or 22 August. For followers of Islam, this is a month of fasting, prayer and reflection. Discretion is exercised as to who fasts; the expectation is that all Muslims will fast with the exception of young children (the very broad cut-off point is about 12 years old/puberty), the sick and elderly, the insane, travellers, pregnant or nursing women, and those who are fighting in battle. Just being elderly is considered insufficient reason not to fast but being elderly and sick is; some pregnant women fast, some don’t; some young children want to participate with their older siblings and will be allowed to fast for part of each day or maybe one full day each week; faced with the challenges of changing time zones some Muslims who are required to travel regularly over Ramadan give to charity during the holy month and then complete the 30 days of fasting later in the year.
For expats and visitors to the UAE, the most noticeable change during the month of Ramadan is that eating, drinking or smoking in public is forbidden, including in your car. The food courts in the malls are closed during daylight hours but reopen after evening prayer and remain open until late. (The local Maccas near Spinneys in Bur Dubai stays open until 3am!) Some restaurants are open during the day but cover their windows with curtains or sheets of newspaper so diners can't be seen from the street. Hotels still offer dining facilities to guests but its limited to areas that are hidden from public view or room service. There is no background music at all in many malls during Ramadan while in others recitations from the Qur'an are played over the PA. In the gym there's no background music or videos shown and if you need a drink of water while you're working out, you go into the change rooms and take it discretely.
Nightclubs are closed for the month as are all the alcohol outlets including Barracuda and The Hole in the Wall. Supermarkets are unaffected and last year lolly barrows in the malls were still open but purchases can’t be eaten in public.
For Muslims who are fasting, the day begins with an early meal called suhour which, depending on prayer time, may be as early as 4am. This is followed by the early morning prayer (Fajr). The faithful fast during daylight hours each day of the month. The fast is broken each evening at sundown. In the early days of Islam one of the Fatimid caliphs decreed that the end of the day's fasting should be announced by the firing of a cannon which could be heard all over the local area. The cannon was introduced to Dubai during the rule of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum (1912-1958) to regulate the timing of the call for iftar. To keep the tradition alive, each year the Dubai Police have placed cannons in Al Musalla, Al Ras, Karama Musalla and Al Safa Park which are
fired every evening to announce iftar. There are differences within the Emirates; while Sharjah also uses the cannons and had 10 in use in 2008, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi has never introduced the practice. People gather to watch the cannons firing before going to the mosque for the Maghrib (evening) prayer.
The day's fast is broken initially with something light, often exactly seven dates as was the practice of The Prophet (pbuh) along with some laban (drinking yoghurt). The evening prayer is followed by a meal called iftar. Across the Muslim world iftar, which is served as a buffet, is the opportunity for families, neighbours and friends to get together, enjoy the meal, play board games or just relax and chat. In homes, hotels and restaurants iftar has also become an important social event for expats. Many hotels construct special “iftar tents” (or “Ramadan tents”) where customers can get a feel for the tradition of community. Each evening during Ramadan the tents fill with families, friends and workmates both Muslim and non-Muslim enjoying the iftar meal together. Many businesses hold iftars for clients and news of which hotels are giving the season's best iftars circulates quickly. While loud music is banned during Ramadan, many iftar tents have an oud player quietly playing classic Arabic music in the background.
During Ramadan, by law, working hours in the UAE are reduced to 6 hours a day whether the employee is Muslim or not.
This article from the
Gulf News gives advice on the healthy approach to fasting.
A dietician advises those fasting during Ramadan to eat a breakfast high in fibre during the pre-dawn suhour so that it will stay in the stomach for longer and hunger pangs will be delayed.
Foods from each of the five food groups should be eaten during suhour, said Dr Anjali Bange, dietician at Welcare Hospital. "It should leave you feeling satisfied," she said.
Bran flakes or whole meal bread are a good source of fibre. Fibre digests slowly, taking up to eight hours, while other foods may be digested in just three to four hours. Other sources of fibre include vegetables such as green peas, spinach, marrow, fruit with skin and dried fruit such as apricots, figs and prunes as well as almonds.
The dietician also warned that those who will be fasting should eat in moderation, rather than stuffing themselves because they know they will be going hungry for between eight to 10 hours during the daylight hours of the fast.
Besides the religious significance of fasting during Ramadan, abstaining from food helps detoxify the body, Anjali said.
"It helps in improving your immunity. Your skin looks better and you feel more energetic as the digestive system cleans up," she explained.
Fasting also helps to develop willpower and stave off a number of ailments, such as chronic stomach ache, inflammation of the colon, obesity and high blood pressure.
People are generally recommended to drink about eight to 10 glasses of water every day, and when you are fasting you should try to drink a further two glasses, the dietician said. This can be done by drinking tea and fruit juices or eating soups or fruit with a high water content, such as watermelon.
However, doctors warn that tea makes you pass more urine, stripping the body of mineral salts that are needed during the day.
Those ending their fast during iftar are advised to take it easy and not to eat the wrong types of foods.
"People should try not to eat large quantities of fried foods, such as samosas and fried chicken," Anjali said.
According to Islamic injunctions, the suhour and iftar must be observed to avoid prolonged fasting that might harm the bodies of those observing Ramadan.
Healthy tips
What you should do - Eat high-fibre foods during suhour - vegetables such as green peas, spinach and marrow, fruits with skin and dried fruit such as apricots, figs and prunes, as well as nuts. - Drink up to 12 glasses of water a day. This can also be achieved by drinking fruit juices, consuming soup or by eating fruit with a high water content (e.g. watermelon).- Eat foods from the five food groups.
What you should not do - Drink too much tea during suhour. Tea makes you pass more urine, stripping the body of mineral salts that are needed during the day. - Eat too much fast food at iftar, such as samosas or fried chicken. - Over-eat when ending the fast.

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