Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ramadan - you don't have no ice cream

There is a reason for embedding this video, which will be revealed - but if you are offended by bad language, maybe give it a miss!

We had a couple of visitors at work today from the UK who asked a question that a lot of people ask, "What is it like here during Ramadan?", which will be starting next week. They were asking from a business perspective, but we also reflected on life in general during The Holy Month. 

Of course most people focus in on the  "no eating and drinking" thing which is to be expected. I don't find this so much of a problem really. Most hotels have a coffee shop that is open in the daytime, but is curtained off from the general public. Some coffee shops like Starbucks are also open but with their shopfront windows blacked out. Garages and grocers continue to sell food and drink and even some fast food chains will be open, but for take away only. This reflects the way in which the UAE generally is tolerant of non-Muslim expats and allows for a degree of flexibility. The secret is not to abuse this tolerance and be seen to be openly flaunting the fact. Hence, if I want to have a drink during the day, I can easily buy one and quietly drink it in my car away from the general public or maybe swiftly swigging it as I drive while there is no one driving next to me. It's really about respect. Muslims commit themselves to not eating/drinking/smoking or having sex during daylight hours, so to openly drink/eat or smoke in public (sex in public isn't acceptable anytime, anywhere!) is like Eddie Murphy as a child smugly taunting the child that has no ice cream! And it would also come across as a big "Dis' " to Islam. 

In the evenings, the place goes mad! Just before sunset the roads are busy as everyone gets home to pray and break their fast at sunset. Breaking the fast is traditionally done with dates and milk. During this time, the roads become empty and makes for a great time to go to the supermarkets if you are a non-Muslim!

After prayers, there is then the Iftar meal. Sometimes businesses organise Iftar celebrations to invite all their customers to share. Business is still done at Iftar and after. Mainly though, everyone is out to join friends and family to celebrate. I can see how they must love this time - it's like Christmas week , but for a month!  The malls are full until the early hours of the morning and the place seems to be buzzing. Live music and entertainment is restricted though - and that includes the volume of the music in your car. 

Business in Abu Dhabi goes very quiet during Ramadan. Major decisions, such as contract awards are not usually taken during Ramadan, especially with Government or semi-government organisations. Those that are fasting will work shortened hours, so there is a smaller window of opportunity for meetings. Muslim expats may travel at this time to be with family. 

Generally, I don't mind Ramadan. It's a nice quiet time of year and I think people generally have a happier disposition. 

So, to my Muslim readers - Ramadan Kareem for next week!

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