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Ramadan through the eyes of a non-Muslim - Day 10

Ramadan through the eyes of a non-Muslim - Day 10

It’s one of the few times I’ve seen Emiratis and expats coming together to socialise.


Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Published: Sun 28 Jun 2015, 1:55 AM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:19 PM

UK Consul General and embassy staff attend an iftar at the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding - Photo: WAM

The other evening, I had the good fortune to be invited to a lavish Suhour meal at Emaar’s Downtown Tent, in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa. Apart from being a delicious meal complemented by a tasty and seemingly never-ending shisha, the event made me realise something about Ramadan: it’s one of the few times I’ve seen Emiratis and expats coming together to socialise.

To many non-Arab expats, Emiratis remain a bit of a mystery, who sort of vanish outside of business hours, or who are seen in a shopping mall perhaps, but rarely interacted with. This, I’ve gathered, is a function of both language and culture.

Emiratis are family-oriented people, and their friendships are lifelong affairs built on mutual experiences and trust. Many expats, on the other hand, are comparatively recent arrivals with no history or roots in the UAE, and tend to fall back on people of similar backgrounds for support. Even so, I’m always amazed at how many people I’ve met who have been here for years — even decades — and say they haven’t really spoken to an Emirati outside of work.

Ramadan, however, brings people together across cultures. For Muslims, Ramadan is a bonding experience with believers from other cultures — the holy month has the same sacred significance whether one comes from Pakistan, Mali, Indonesia or the Gulf. But it also has the effect of providing opportunities for non-Muslim expats to sit down and get to know the locals.

I, for one, had a lovely chat with a young Emirati gentleman. Initially I thought we wouldn’t have much in common, but it turned out we had similar interests, have travelled to similar places, and both are supporters of Chelsea football team. I can’t really think of another situation over the six months I’ve been in the UAE in which I would have had a chance to have a talk with an Emirati of a similar age if I wasn’t interviewing him or her for a story. It would be nice if this sort of interaction were more frequent year round.

Later on that evening, I found myself at Dubai Mall, at about 1am, in an attempt to walk off some of the feast I’d just eaten. It’s a completely different experience during Ramadan. Emiratis suddenly no longer seemed like the minority they are here. In fact, I saw very few non-Emiratis in the mall. It’s also very apparent how Ramadan provides a chance for Emirati families and groups of friends to spend time with each other.—  bernd@khaleejtimes.com

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