Ah, Ramadan – the ‘R’ word that, for many parents, is so misunderstood it’s almost feared. But we’re here to sort the myths from the facts and set you straight about practical parenting during the holy month.
So, what is Ramadan all about? Amna Baltaji, originally from California, converted to Islam over 30 years ago. She says, ‘Ramadan is a celebration of the month during which the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) received the revelations brought to him through the Angel Gabriel. These revelations are considered to be the word of Allah and they form the Muslim holy book called the Qu’ran.’
Got it. So how does this celebration manifest itself? It’s difficult to know exactly when Ramadan will fall because it’s affected by the moon. But, when it does begin, there are things we all need to remember. The bit that most of us are aware of is the fasting. Those observing the fast do not allow anything, including food, water, gum and cigarettes, to pass their lips during daylight hours. For this reason, they get up at around 5am and eat a meal called the Suhoor. They don’t break the fast until sundown, when they have a feast called Iftar. Most restaurants throughout the city offer Iftars, and non-Muslims are welcome to feast, too – it’s definitely a must-do for all.
As a sign of solidarity and respect, no adults, regardless of their colour or religion, are allowed to consume anything in public in daylight hours. You are free to eat and drink as you please in private, but doing so on the street could result in arrest and even imprisonment. Little ones are OK to eat and drink anywhere, although it’s still a nice idea to keep it discreet. Many restaurants shut their doors until Iftar, but some eateries will continue to operate behind screens.
Although there are no set rules on the age at which Muslim children should start fasting, most will be doing so by the age of 12 and many start doing half-day fasts at a younger age so they can ‘practise’ and not feel left out. Partly for that reason, schools are legally only allowed to be open between 8.30am and 2pm, so you’ll need to think about childcare if you’re working. It’s also a good time to teach your children to be supportive. Amna says, ‘My son was so touched when a non-Muslim classmate gave him a smile and told him, “Good luck, I guess you’ll feel better at dinner!” You don’t have to be Muslim to be supportive and compassionate.’
This is one of our favourite elements of Ramadan – the focus on kindness, forgiveness and compassion. This can be seen through the charitable work that’s expected of all Muslims during Ramadan – and you certainly don’t have to be religious to take part in this (see ‘It’s nice to be nice’, right).
Dressing conservatively is a basic tenet of living in Dubai, which tends to be forgotten by many of us for much of the year, but during Ramadan we could all do with remembering where we live and having some respect. That means covering chests and shoulders, and not wearing shorts or skirts above the knee (so keep an eye on your teens). Loud music is also prohibited as Ramadan is a quiet, reflective time. We suggest you use this to your advantage and refuse to play the Wiggles CD in the car.
Ramadan ends with the mother of all celebrations: Eid Al Fitr (the festival of fast-breaking). A public holiday nationwide, this goes on for three days and consists of visiting extended family, calling those who aren’t around and generally being in a darn good mood. And of course, there’s one other element of the celebrations that can be witnessed in cultures the world over: the kids get gifts. Some things never change. Moon pending, Ramadan will start around August 21.
It’s nice to be nice
One of the most admirable elements of Ramadan is its focus on charitable deeds. Whether you’re a Muslim or not, encourage your sprogs to raise money through bake sales or washing cars and donate the proceeds to one of the following fabulous charities:
• Animal lovers should check out the commendable efforts of K9 Friends (www.k9friends.com; 04 347 4611), Feline Friends (www.felinefriendsdubai.com; 050 451 0058) and the Animal Sanctuary and Petting Farm (050 273 0973), all of whom are in desperate need of cash to keep looking after their furry dependents.
• Ever wondered what kind of living conditions the labourers we see working through the scorching midday sun have to endure? Pretty awful ones, is the unfortunate answer. Helping Hands UAE (www.helpinghandsuae.com; 050 567 1434) cannot accept financial donations but desperately need all sorts of material items, from food for construction workers, to camping equipment for the homeless, to toiletries for abused maids.
• The Make A Wish Foundation (www.makeawish.ae; 04 368 0217) works to make terminally ill children’s dreams come true. Other incredible kids’ charities include Al Noor Training Centre For Children With Special Needs (04 340 4844), which helps to integrate special needs children into society, and Start (www.startworld.org; 04 368 1128), which offers art as a healing and developmental tool to disadvantaged kids in the Middle East.
For full charity listings, see the Community section in this week’s Time Out Dubai.