Spirituality meets charity for people of various faiths during Ramadan in UAE
Ramadan may mean piety and good deeds for Muslims at large, but non-Muslims aren’t far behind when it comes to observing the spirit of the holy month.
They not only take this opportunity to explore their spiritual being but also come together at community level to become part of the various activities that have come to be associated with Ramadan.
Some even fast as regular Muslims do while others fast intermittently for health benefits. A lot of them actively volunteer for charity.
What motivates them?
Reasons may vary from experiencing spirituality to going on a detox diet; expressing solidarity with majority of Muslim residents and giving back to the community they live in.
One common thread unites them though – the feeling that Ramadan in the UAE is a time when residents show kindness and generosity. There is a general sense of positivity and oneness all around.
A rewarding experience
For many, fasting is a rewarding experience – both physically and spiritually. Gurpreet Singh, who comes from India, finds the whole experience very peaceful.
“I’ve fasted since I came to the UAE eight years ago. I started enjoying it when I realized it gave me mental strength – I found myself becoming more patient and calm,” Singh told Al Arabiya English. Singh intends to practice fasting for as long as he can.
For Navin Amaratunga and his wife Charmilee, fasting in Ramadan has become a family affair.
Having arrived in the UAE four years ago from Sri Lanka, Navin began fasting due to his belief that it is an extremely healthy practice which disciplines and rewards a person.
Kicking bad habits
“Simply put, if we are able to forego water, one of the most vital requirements of man, how hard can it be to give up certain bad habits that we all possess? We have the capability to drop them, at least one at a time,” says Amaratunga.
His wife Charmilee says she really enjoys Ramadan here for its sense of togetherness. “When we first came here I found it quite interesting that there was so much support and advice regarding Ramadan in the local magazines for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike,” she says.
The Amaratungas’ practice has also inspired their seven-year-old daughter Kiyaana to join what is now becoming a family tradition. Kiyaana has started observing half-day fasts, her parents proudly informed.
Embracing local culture
Laura B., a British primary teacher at a school in Abu Dhabi wanted to fast to support the children in her class, her colleagues and to experience the local culture. She has been fasting for two years now since she came to the UAE.
“The children in my class found it very exciting that I was embracing their culture. They were very supportive and I was able to demonstrate to them the importance of respecting other religions. They also enjoyed teaching me for a change,” says Laura.
“Breaking my fast opened up a whole new world. Many of the Iftars I have attended have either been intimate gatherings with close family and friends or extravagant settings with a plethora of multicultural delights. I have also experienced tasting the local dish hares, which I found very unusual but delicious,” Laura said.
Born and raised in the UAE, Anita Bhatia, an Indian in Dubai, has been fasting for approximately 15 years. An active member of the community, Bhatia regularly contributes to community building initiatives.
“Ramzan (as it is usually pronounced in India) is always special – as a resident, it always makes me aware of the peace and tolerance with which the ideology of Islam is practiced in the country and I think that's beautiful”, Anita said.
Spirit of giving
Several non-Muslims in the country see Ramadan as the time to involve themselves in charity work. Swathi Santhosh, an Indian and a UAE resident for over a decade, manages one of the famous Ramadan Fridges in Dubai.
Motivated by the concept of “giving” in Ramadan, Santosh says the best thing about the initiative is to see how people from different cultures, religion and nationalities work together to make a difference. “We have a common goal and purpose,” says Santhosh.
According to Santosh “what’s beautiful is to see children come forward and do their bit for the community despite the heat this year.” Ramadan Sharing Fridges is a project licensed by the Emirates Red Crescent.
For American entrepreneur, Gina Dillon, Ramadan is about experiencing “oneness”. Dillon heads the FreeCycle group in Abu Dhabi – a non-profit, community group that encourages members to recycle usable items. Members give away and receive used items for free, promoting environmental consciousness and community awareness.
Dillon encourages residents to be more active during Ramadan. “I love the slow pace, the introspection, the kindness shared by Muslims and non-Muslims in Ramadan. It is a very special time and it definitely brings everyone in the UAE together,” Dillon says.
Another active member of the community, Diya Kaushal, finds community building activities positively “addictive” in nature. An active collaborator at Rags to Riches, Dubai, Kaushal said: “By investing time and energy in community initiatives, one receives happiness that cannot be compared to anything else in the world.”
Kaushal and her 10-year-old son, Bhuvan, make about 200 bottles of Rooh Afza (a sweet drink from the subcontinent savored especially during Ramadan), distributing them daily to construction workers near their house.
Founded by a Dubai-based British, Barbara Evans, Rags to Riches is a charity that converts pre-loved fabric to decent, wearable clothes for less fortunate children in developing countries.