Experience teaches students about spirit of Ramadan
Faithful praying at King Faisal Mosque in Sharjah
Holy month propels individuals to think beyond self and own desires, say students
Spending a Ramadan away from family and sharing the goodness of the holy month with classmates is a different experience for both Muslim and non-Muslim students.
Kareem Lee from Antigua studies a global MBA programme at SP Jain School of Global Management in Dubai. She has been discovering her first Ramadan in a truly immersive setting. "I consider the experience of Ramadan most intriguing. I must confess that until my arrival here, the information I had regarding Ramadan and the corresponding expectations were quite limited and somewhat skewed in accuracy," she said.
Spending time at the Shaikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, her introduction to 'all things Ramadan' is more comprehensive now, she said.
"For me, it is not a burden to adhere to Ramadan traditions. Living here during the month of Ramadan requires adjustment but it is the perfect opportunity to live in a place of heightened mindfulness. Ultimately the Ramadan experience propels an individual to think beyond self and own desires, and to genuinely connect with those around you," she said.
For new expats, the mindfulness can slip at times and Lee was put at ease when she mistakenly asked for a dine-in meal before sunset at a restaurant. "As I reflect on my experiences so far, the most pronounced occurrence of being kept in line with Ramadan would have been last Sunday when I walked into a restaurant sometime after 6.30pm and attempted to dine there. The staff there ever so graciously pointed out the time to me and reminded me of the Ramadan guidelines and kindly offered the alternatives of waiting until Iftar or opting for take-away to consume in the privacy of home. That experience spoke volumes, in my estimation, of the consistency and sincerity of embracing the traditions," she said.
Taher Moustafa Ayman, an Egyptian MBA student, talked about his time growing up in Dubai. "Honestly, being born and brought up in Dubai, I love spending Ramadan here. Back in Egypt, I remember people used to gather in the streets till late at night and the sound of prayers could be heard everywhere. The hot weather here doesn't let you share the same experience," said Ayman.
He takes pride in sharing the goodness of Ramadan with his non-Muslim friends, he said. "People are always interested in being introduced to different traditions, and Ramadan traditions top their list."
For Emirati student Ahmad Bartawi, the confluence of global cultures is a reflection of how different people celebrate Ramadan. "I have not (seen) ... any of the non-Muslim students eating, drinking or smoking during the day in Ramadan. This is one month Muslims around the world wait to experience as it brings them closer to Allah. It is important for me to share this with my non-Muslim friends," said Bartawi.
Youssef Farag, an Egyptian finance student who is studying his first semester at University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD), is spending his first Ramadan in Dubai.
"I miss my family, my mother's cooking and going to Iftar and having Suhur with my friends. In Egypt, families decorate their homes a lot more and the food tastes different. I'm looking forward to introducing some of these traditions next year," he said.
Having grown up in Jeddah, his first Ramadan in Dubai is a time away from family. Like many Muslim students, Farag said the fasting rituals do not interfere with their daily routines.
"I'm not finding it hard because I have a routine and I have been fasting in Ramadan for many years now. We are still expected to study and sit for exams. However, I think ... (the fact that) ... summer is an optional semester at UOWD ... is good, so we have the choice whether to study in Ramadan or not. Anyone who chooses to enrol knows what is expected of them. Everyone is very respectful of the rules of Ramadan inside the university campus," he said.
Randa Bamatraf, a Master?s student at UOWD from Yemen, has been living in Dubai with her family since 2002. She enjoys explaining her faith to fellow students on campus and sharing finer details of the holy month beyond the abstinence from eating and drinking.
"I often hold Iftar get-togethers and I love it when my friends from other cultures come along, too. Quite often they fast during the day as well in order to experience what it's like for us and to appreciate how special Iftar is for us. I enjoy it when new students ask me questions as it gives me a good opportunity to explain to them how Ramadan brings us closer to Islam and how it isn't just about not eating or drinking."
Gaurav Hingorani, a student at Murdoch University Dubai is accustomed to Ramadan cultures. "While being in a multicultural environment, we must adapt to the law of the land and adhere to those following Ramadan's traditions. I found no difficulty adapting my schedule to show respect to my fellow colleagues," he said.
Hingorani said he enjoys learning from different cultures and getting together with his friends during Iftar time at university. "My favourite part of Ramadan is getting together at the end of the day for Iftar to indulge in local delicacies and have a sense of unity within the diversity of cultures. I also admire and respect the commitment to one's faith," he said.
Shahd Walid Takrouri, a media student at the university, said most students adhere to the rules during Ramadan. "The academic director of the university sends out an e-mail to all students stating the norms to be followed during Ramadan. So the expats do respect that. Mostly, since students have lived here, they usually know what to do during Ramadan."