Ramadan in UAE: Easier to fast on land than at sea, say seafarers

Dealing with rough seas and emergencies that can come up during voyages makes following the obligations of the holy month challenging yet rewarding

by

Waheed Abbas

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Published: Mon 17 Apr 2023, 3:46 PM

Last updated: Mon 17 Apr 2023, 4:42 PM

Spending weeks and months at the mercy of the sea away from their families, life is not as normal for seafarers as people who work onshore.

This is especially true during the holy month of Ramadan, when, seafarers in the UAE say, it is easier to fast on land than at sea.

“You can get the food and drink of your choice while sitting on land. But at sea, you don’t have as many choices," said Mohamed Elbahlawan, who has been sailing for more than 30 years. He added that anything to do with eating and drinking is harder at sea when a vessel is sailing — and "one has to hold the glass and plates that you’re using to eat and drink because the vessel is unstable”.

A UAE resident for more than two decades, the Egyptian national has spent many Ramadans at sea. “I've spent in the ratio of around five Ramadans at sea to one at home,” he explained.

On a few occasions, he had to break his fast due to rough weather while sailing. “When the sea is rough, people usually don't eat. But I ate at Suhoor time and then I started throwing up; hence, I had to break the fast,” Elbahlawan told Khaleej Times in an interview, while sharing the challenges seafarers face during their journeys.

The Egyptian national has been working with Dubai-based Mubarak Marine for nearly 23 years and said his colleagues who work along with him are his extended family.

“There are people of different nationalities and religions working on the ship all the time, but there is no religion, no nationality when we are sailing. Humanity comes first. We share Iftar meals with all the people from different religions, cultures and countries. Our Christian and Hindu colleagues also respect the holy month and don’t eat or smoke in our presence when we are sailing during Ramadan. Interestingly, it is mostly our non-Muslim colleagues who prepare the Iftar meal for us Muslims who fast onboard the ship,” Elbahlawan said.

Imran Shaukat Badiwale, an Indian national, echoes his Egyptian colleague’s views, saying it is definitely easier to fast onshore than offshore. “You don’t get proper time to offer prayers and then there is the challenge of offering 'salah' in 'Jamaah' (congregation) as other colleagues may not be available at the time of the prayer.”

Badiwale, who has spent more than half of his life in this field, is used to rough weather at sea but said it’s more challenging for newcomers.

Lieutenant Khalifa Aref Ali Alabbar, an Emirati, is also a veteran of the shipping industry and has also worked in the coastguard.

“Waiting to break the fast with all the colleagues together on a ship is an amazing feeling and a very nice experience. So one guy gives the Azan call and then he breaks the fast, two minutes after we all have broken the fast. So it’s a magical moment while sitting together and eating,” said Alabbar, who also works for Mubarak Marine, which employs more than 1,000 people across various verticals.

Alabbar likes to fast because it keeps him more active. “I fast even after Ramadan to discipline and challenge myself.”

Mohammad Ahmed Shahragard, an Iranian national who works as operations duty officer and whose job involves emergency response, often breaks his fast while performing his duties.

“Whenever there is an urgent call at the time of breaking the fast, we just have a date and rush to solve the problems,” he said.

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