Nasif explains to us that “Ramadan is about being a better person, it is about discipline and empathy.” During the Holy Month, Muslims should avoid thinking bad thoughts, cursing or getting angry, and should be charitable towards others. The month of fasting is one of the five Acts of Worship in Islam and is a time for spiritual growth and self-control that should last long after Eid is celebrated. “It teaches one not to be wasteful: eat to live and not live to eat,” says Nasif – a lesson so many people in society today could learn from.
Eating and Drinking
In a city with so many different nationalities and cultures, understanding behaviour towards Muslims at this special time is vital. The most obvious concerns are eating and drinking in public and Nasif urges people to exercise discretion and common sense. “Simply as acourtesy extended to fasting Muslims, don’t walk across the street openly sipping from your bottle of water,” he says. Be aware that brazenly consuming food or water in public during Ramadan hours can result in a fine or even a trip down to the police station.
How you dress during this period is also a sign of respect – modesty is emphasised during Ramadan. Shoulders should be covered for both men and women, and skirt lengths should fall below the knee. “Keep in mind the heightened spirituality during the Holy Month of Ramadan, a month in which all of us should reach out to each other and exercise the ultimate show of humanity and tolerance,” implores Nasif.
During Ramadan daily routines shift considerably and the city is more alive after dark. While most restaurants are closed during the day and many bars and live music venues are closed at night, the region’s malls, supermarkets and other retailers maintain daytime opening hours with extended evening hours. Employers follow the guidelines set up by the Federal Government and private sector companies are required to shorten working hours during Ramadan, so it’s a good time to hang out with friends and family.
“Music does not break your fast, whether you hear it accidently or intentionally. It does, though, fall into the category of things to avoid while fasting. On the other hand, reading and reciting the Quran, as well as remembrance, reflection and contemplation are part of the expected behaviour from the fasting person. Music may distract you from that,” explains Nasif.
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding encourages you to join Muslims for an iftar – an authentic one, not in a restaurant or hotel – by visiting a Muslim colleague or friend for a home iftar, or join a tent or a masjid iftar feeding the poor by handing out juices and fruits. (Check out our list of charities to get involved with on page 10.) “It’s about everyone coming together, fasting or not, in an effort to improve the relations we have with everyone in our community,” concludes Nasif. This is your opportunity to be a part of that experience. Go on and make the most of it.
Sharing a Suhoor or Iftar Emirati-style
Ramadan is a time for families to reconnect, and, as with most cultures, this revolves around sharing some special meals. Muslims generally start the day with suhoor – the meal before dawn. Immediate family members usually share in this meal, and for kids it can be really exciting eating breakfast in the small hours of the morning. At night, homes are usually abuzz with neighbours, friends and extended family, all gathering to share in the iftar – the meal that breaks the fast. Here’s a selection of the dishes likely to be on the table…
Niggi or Dungo: Boiled chickpeas – the original snack food of the region and what Nasif calls “old people’s version of crisps or popcorn.”
Balaleet: A breakfast dish that has vermicelli noodles boiled and mixed with raisins and saffron before adding eggs.
Chabab: Similar to pancakes with a flour and water batter, but flavoured and aromatised with aniseed or saffron. Served with cream cheese (traditionally camel milk-based) and drizzled with date syrup, this is the pancakes and maple syrup of the Western world. “Throughout the universe we eat the same thing, we just call it a different name and we spice it differently. Food is food!” says Nasif.
Khameer: Khameer is a little bit thicker than chabab and looks more like bread. It’s used to make a sandwich using eggs or date syrup and cream cheese, and generally eaten for breakfast.
Lugamat: These are fried dough balls, a flour and water batter fried in oil, like the middle of a dougnut. “We invented them before Dunkin Doughnuts invented munchkins,” Nasif jokes.
Machboos: Similar to biryani or paella, slow-cooked rice served with fish or chicken.
Thread: Stew of potato, zucchini and carrots with lamb, beef or chicken spread over layers of thin, baked bread, like a lasagna.
Mathrouba: Chicken, lentils, parsley and spices cooked until mushy and then whipped into a paste or porridge-like consistency.
Harees: Another heavy-duty dish, this is made from wheat, ghee, lamb or beef and spices and cooked until it reaches an almost gluten-like texture and then whipped.
Salona: A stew of lamb, beef, chicken or fish with lots of vegetables, served with rice.