10 things you (probably) didn't know about Ramadan
If you have lived in the Middle East long enough, you’re probably going to already be expecting the Holy Month of Ramadan. If you’re relatively new here, or this is your first time in a Muslim country during the Holy Month, it can seem a bit daunting.
You’ve heard all the stories, even the exaggerated ones, but, trust us, it’s not as scary as it sounds. And there is a lot more to the Holy Month and that you might be unaware of. So, here are ten things you (probably) didn't know about Ramadan:
1. It’s not just about fasting
The month of Ramadan has a lot more to it than just sacrificing food and drinks. A big part of the month is reflecting on (and helping) the less fortunate. Muslims and organisations take the month to be proactive in doing charity work in a myriad of different ways - and everyone is welcome to participate. If you’re interested, a quick google search should show a number of organisations of all sizes looking to recruit volunteers for the month. Take it as you’re chance to get involved and do something good.
2. Petty crimes are pardoned
The rulers of the UAE usually take the month in order to pardon a number of inmates of their crimes - usually first time offenders of petty crimes. Every year, inmates with good behaviour are allowed to go home and spend the Holy Month with family. A real heartfelt moment for many families in the UAE.
3. Punishments for eating in public
In most Arab countries, eating and drinking in public during is consider a crime. However, the Arab world has varying levels of punishment for the crime. So, before you decide to take a quick bite of your sandwich in public (or even smoke a cigarette) you might want to refer to the law of your country. It’s no surprise that Saudi has the strictest laws in the Gulf, with sentences as stricts as expats being deported and locals getting jail time and lashings. The UAE is known to be the lightest in the Gulf with a small fine or jail time, depending on the severity of the offence.
4. Fasting chefs can taste food
We all know fasting means Muslims have to refrain from consuming both food and drink during daylight hours. But did you know the people preparing the food for iftar (the breaking of the fast) are allowed to taste test everything. Because nothing is worse than spending a whole day preparing food only to realise it could’ve used a little more salt.
5. TV ratings go up
Work hours tend to be more lenient for people fasting during Ramadan, therefore it is usually a time when people have a lot more free time. Now factor in that local TV shows spend an entire year working to create special daily content for the month of Ramadan usually means TV ratings go through the roof. Even though there really isn’t any precise way to measure TV ratings, you’ll just have to take our word on this one.
6. Business booms
Ramadan is not just a month of spirituality, it’s also a month of shopping. In the modern world, Ramadan has spawned the growth of Ramadan sales with discounts on pretty much everything. Whether this is because people like to shop in Ramadan or Ramadan offers make people want to shop is debatable. But it’s probably not the latter...
7. Bad decisions still lead to bad results
It’s easy to think going without eating or drinking the entire day sounds like a great diet strategy. But Fasting is a little more complicated than that. When done correctly (by eating healthy, sensible portions, and drinking water) it can lead to a number of health benefits like weight loss, lower blood pressure and reduced cholesterol. But if done poorly (eg. binge eating on fatty foods and being lazy) it can see all those benefits reversed.
8. Smoking and physical affection is out
Fasting is not limited to food and drinks. Smoking and physical affection also have to be avoided as they can negate a fast. So if you have a Muslim friend who is addicted to smoking, and you notice they are a little agitated the first week of Ramadan, now you know why they are on edge. Quick side note, when asking for a favour, wait till after iftar. Its science (kind of).
9. Iftar rush hour can be dangerous
For years now there is usually a spike in road accidents in the last hour of the daily fast. People rushing home to make it in time to eat can usually become a little reckless. Many steps have been taken here in the UAE in recent years to curb this, like handing out small packets of free food on roads to ensure people can break their fast on the way home. Having said that, it’s always best to keep an eye out and stay on the safe side.
10. People exempted from fasting
Not everyone has to fast in Ramadan. A number of exemptions are made for certain people during Ramadan so they can skip out on having to fast. The most notable of who are the sick, the elderly, pregnant women, breast-feeding women and even professional athletes. Travelling also gives a healthy person a pass on fasting. It is encouraged although for the people that can to make up for missed days as soon as they can.