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My eyes are now open to the true meaning of Ramadan

Growing up I was reluctant to fast, but now I appreciate the importance of the Holy Month and the bringing together of friends and family.

Ramadan was a foreign concept to me growing up in the West.

Sure, I knew that once a year, without fail, the time would come when my parents would not eat during the day for a whole month.

I knew for the course of that month we would enjoy larger and later-than-usual dinners, beginning as late as 9pm in the summer months in England.

I observed my parents reading more Quran and spending more time praying.

I heard them get up at odd hours of the night to eat and to pray.

But other than that, other than observing from the sidelines, it was business as usual for me.

When I returned to the UAE for a brief stint at the adolescent age of 15, I was ill-prepared for the notion of Ramadan. A few days before my first Ramadan in the Emirates, my parents duly informed me that they, along with the rest of Emirati society, expected me to fast.

The idea of committing to what seemed to me a strange and painful ritual did not sit well, and I declined the request. The more I refused to comply, the more my family insisted, and the more I rebelled.

In objection, I routinely sneaked food into my room away from critical eyes, sought refuge in the homes of foreign friends whose families would graciously prepare a midday meal and spent as little time as possible at home during the harsh sunlight hours, only returning when the relief of the darkness had come.

This story played out for a few years until I was able to escape back to the West, where all seemed copacetic.

But returning from my extended UAE hiatus more mature and less rebellious, I now find myself approaching the special month with optimism, taking note of the joy and excitement the occasion brings.

I have noticed people talking about and preparing for Ramadan weeks in advance, genuinely enthusiastic about the month to come. I have witnessed how the month brings families together like no other time of the year. I have seen people's demeanour improve, where their gentler and kinder sides shine through during the entire month - perhaps with the exception of the few crazy minutes on the roads before iftar.

Through the challenge of the fast, I have also been able to observe in myself aspects not so easily revealed during the rest of the year.

This includes a better understanding of my capacity to refrain, which seems endless after just a few days of fasting, providing me with the feeling that I can control any urges and tendencies at any time.

A heightened appreciation for the little things in life has also arisen.

Gratitude for water, food and time with loved ones are ever present. My first sip of water and bite of date after the first day of fasting, for example, were better than the classiest meal I have ever had.

Having opened my eyes to the happiness and gratification this month can produce means I will no longer be dreading, criticising and escaping Ramadan, but gladly anticipating, enjoying and immersing myself in its spirit.

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