Ramadan away from home

TODAY, with the ease and availability of travel, forces of globalisation and migration, a myriad of opportunities for cross-cultural contact has been created. As a result, there is an increase in between-society contact as more and more people live in environments different from their country of origin, interacting with people whose language and culture may be unlike their own.

By Samineh I Shaheem

Published: Tue 31 Aug 2010, 12:13 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 11:14 AM

The UK has benefited from a steadily rising presence of Gulf students, particularly those from the United Arab Emirates. Equally, individuals from the UAE benefit from the experience of a top class education, with the objective to later transfer the skills and knowledge gained when entering the work force and being active participants in the modernization process of their country.

As Emarati students gradually adjust to a different way of life in London, and interact with students from different parts of the world, certain aspects of their cultural identity may take a different form. This gradual adjustment, also known as the acculturation process, involves changes and experiences within the student’s daily life which might result in transformation of certain values and behaviours in economic, social and religious contexts (Berry 1991).

More specifically, Emarati students have been found to reflect upon their religious identity and traditional practices while studying in London, especially during the holy month of Ramadan and other festivals.

Ramadan to the Emarati national, no matter where they are, is an important pillar of Islam; the others being prayer, faith, charity and pilgrimage.

It is a time for giving, not taking. A time for being prudent with wants and trying only to fulfil needs. However Ramadan, for those students away from home, can be a lonely time when feelings of isolation and homesickness can reach a peak. A number of Emarati undergraduate students in London thus far have revealed some interesting patterns of practice and reflections related to the holy month.

Many students explained their religion actually helped them during their initial period of adjustment. They spoke of how reading verses from the Quran and listening to religious audio tapes make them feel more grounded, offering them peace and serenity. Their prayers and connectivity to Allah give them strength during uncertain and occasionally isolating times.

These same students, as a result of the positive connectivity to their religion, described how Ramadan poses as a period of renewed pride in their religious beliefs.

They welcome Ramadan especially since it is a holy month and a time when they can talk more openly and frequently about all the positive aspects of their creeds and doctrines to their non Muslim friends, classmates, university faculty and administrators.

One student said, “We love inviting our lecturers to eat with us in the evenings so that they can see, first hand, how special Ramadan is and what it means to us Muslims all around the world.

What all students had in common was the way in which they tried to replicate the collectivists theme and spirit of hospitality that they all missed during Ramadan while in London.

Interestingly, most students talked about how technology helped in encouraging togetherness and social gatherings. Satellite television programmes, created and aired only during the month of Ramadan throughout the Islamic world, would be a common reason for students to gather together in the evenings. So, familiar actors and actresses would find their way into Emarati student’s living rooms here in London to keep them company and remind them that they are not alone.

One student from the American International University in London explained, “fasting in London can be much harder than when we are back home because we have to prepare food ourselves, family are not here.”

He went on to say that, “however we are so grateful that we are in a city where we can practice our religion comfortably. Since it is so diverse here, and we have access to many Islamic products, London is easily the next best place to home.”

What was noticed after many discussions with Emarati students regarding their experience of Ramadan in London is that it does not matter that they are far away from home and that Ramadan related practices may be slightly differently practiced by students here.

As the landscape changes for these students, the holy month of Ramadan is never far from their hearts, mind and spirit.

Samineh I Shaheem is an author, and an assistant professor of psychology currently teaching in Dubai, as well as a cross cultural consultant at the Human Relations Institute. She has appeared on numerous radio programmes and conferences and has studied and worked in different parts of the world, including the United Sates of America, UK, Netherlands, and the UAE. Please forward your thoughts to OutOfMindContact@gmail.com

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