'A beautiful time for self-reflection': Meet the Catholic woman for whom fasting during Ramadan nurtures spirituality

The holy month, although not necessarily directly linked to her culture or religion, directly helps her develop empathy towards the less fortunate, explains expat Bianca Riley


Nandini Sircar

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Supplied photo
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Published: Fri 14 Apr 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 14 Apr 2023, 1:55 PM

Fasting is not new to Bianca Riley, even though she hasn’t quite grown up fasting during Ramadan like billions of Muslims around the world.

Born into a Catholic family, Bianca is thankful to the UAE, which is home to various cultural backgrounds as well as a place where she found her Palestinian husband, for broadening their outlook and making them realise that ultimately we are all united in seeking our Creator. The holy month has, in myriad ways, transcended nationalities and creed, and many people have embraced the culture of the UAE as though it is their own.

While Bianca has been in the country for a decade now, her connection with the UAE dates back to much before.

“I’ve been here for ten years, and my family lived here even before that. So we’ve been in and out of the UAE for 15 years or so. The regulations around Ramadan and its aspects during that time were quite different. Restaurants weren’t continuously open, and all the other nuances that have been relaxed over the years [did not exist],” she says.

“At the beginning, I [fasted] once or twice to participate in the ‘time of the year’. Then, I met my now husband, who is Palestinian and a Muslim. Since meeting my husband and being a part of his family, tradition and culture, I’ve completely taken that on. So, [for] the past four years I’ve been fasting strictly,” says the half Italian, half Canadian expat who lives in Dubai.

Bianca, who is a global citizen in the truest sense of the word, was born in Toronto, Canada, moving to Germany when she was quite young. Next, she moved to Switzerland, returning to Canada before moving to the UAE.

“Luckily, my husband’s family and my family live in the UAE, so we often bring both families together at iftar time. Every time I end my fast, it’s with my husband,” she adds.

Elucidating on how she navigated and adapted to a full fast for the entire length of a month, she notes that the restrictions around diet can help many people feel spiritually connected.

“Honestly, for me the first week of every Ramadan is the hardest part. It doesn’t matter how many years I have done it [in] a row. The first week is when one is challenging one's body in a lot of different ways.

“When you are a non-Muslim fasting, you are thinking in different ways. I also feel when there is a religious foundation behind [what] you are doing, and [why] you are doing [it], your perception is very different.

I am Catholic, and we have Lent and Good Friday where you observe certain things which are similar… pertaining to food etc., but it still feels very different [from] my perspective. Therefore, the first week is the hardest part for me, and then [I feel] that it gets easier thereafter with every single day.”

Explaining the essence of Ramadan, which is personal to each human being, Bianca explains that it is a time of coming together, and also a time of solitude and reflection that helps develop empathy towards the less fortunate.

"It’s such a beautiful time of the year for self-reflection, and doing good for your community and the people around you, and perhaps even further beyond that. It’s such an honour to be a part of it, even though it’s not necessarily my culture or religion.”


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