The holy month of Ramadan has a sort of quiet dignity to it, as Muslims fast and reflect and the rest of us respect the rules of our Muslim hosts. Most people do what they have to do with no complaints at all. While many non-Muslims may quietly grumble amongst themselves about having to go without food or water in public, some — the Ramadan smokers — seem to be struggling with their plight.
Like other Arab countries I’ve been to, the UAE is a land of heavy smokers, happy to take advantage of cheap cigarettes and flavourful shishas. If they chose to do so, Ramadan is an excellent time to quit, or, at the very least, cut back. The month, after all, is about abstinence and self-control.
Ramadan smoking, as I’ve seen it, is a bit like an expensive Iftar buffet, in which people who haven’t eaten all day gorge themselves with food until they are uncomfortably full. Some Ramadan smokers — who have probably been agitated and fidgety all day without their fix — quietly brood, get irritated and impatient, until nightfall, and then light up like chimneys.
One can’t help notice how many people are sitting outside in the warmth and humidity of a Dubai summer night, grinning like Cheshire cats as they light up, or how every single shisha bar in the city seems to be packed to the brim until the wee hours of the morning. A few evenings ago I even walked past a shisha bar — enclosed by glass walls — in which a young boy seemed to be gasping for air as his father, and what I imagine were older brothers, puffed away on a series of shishas, drinking coffee and gossiping loudly.
An acquaintance of mine, for example, whom I’d describe as a casual smoke, has suddenly become a chain-smoker, lighting up cigarette after cigarette as soon as the sun goes down. He complements the cigarettes later in the evening with his favourite double-apple shisha. By the next morning, he tells me, he often vows — in a now hoarse and raspy voice — that he’ll smoke less or stop entirely the next day. But, after a day of work and fasting, there he is, smoking away.
Ramadan is meant to be a month of self-control, not 29 days of discipline interspersed with 29 nights of excessive smoking and over-eating. Even non-Muslims can — and probably should — take advantage of the month to learn to control their more unhealthy habits. -email@example.com
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