Organisers of a Ramadan fair in Sharjah say they would like the holy month to be viewed as time for prayer and reflection. And also shopping. "During Ramadan, most people buy like people in Europe before Christmas," said Saleem Shaikh, the fair's senior project manager. "They feel it's a tradition and culture to buy things during Ramadan and to give also. Giving gifts, it's part of the culture."
The fair has been running for 15 years. It is part of the emirate's Ramadan Festival, run by the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce & Industry. Stalls selling items including perfume, cosmetics, jewellery and fashion are being set up at the Expo Centre ahead of tomorrow's opening. The fair will run until the second day of Eid al Fitr, the festival that marks the end of Ramadan. While the decorations at the fair aim to create a traditional Ramadan feel, organisers are keenly aware of the month's commercial value. "They are catering for Eid shoppers, all under one roof, so they can buy all their stuff," said Mr Shaikh.
The fair is being touted as a business opportunity for small and medium-sized companies. Firms from countries including India, Pakistan, Iran and Singapore, as well as the UAE, will have stalls. Mr Shaikh said the fair was also intended to stimulate Sharjah's economy. The financial crisis was "one of the reasons we're promoting it. We're putting in more efforts to bring people here". It was a boon for tourism, he said. He estimated that 15 per cent of visitors were from neighbouring GCC countries, who chose to "stay in Sharjah as hotels are very reasonable for them [in price] and they have an Arab culture".
But such an approach to Ramadan is not without its critics. Religious authorities have long said that the holy month should be a time of prayer and reflection when Muslims shun worldly pursuits. "The month of Ramadan is the month of the Quran and good deeds," said an official on the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments Fatwa hotline. "A person should not be driven away from the values of the month, which is intended to right his actions throughout the rest of the year.
"Whoever shops in excess and uses the month as an occasion to stock up on food and drinks, and then gets to the last 10 days of Ramadan [when Muslims are supposed to intensify their prayers] and begins to think of Eid clothes, that's a dangerous thing. Then it becomes a month of normalcy, not a month of prayers." Last year's fair drew more than 70,000 visitors over 17 days. This year it will run for 26 days, until September 21, which the organisers hope will be long enough to reach the 100,000 mark.
The fair was a "very good opportunity to launch products, a very good platform, and cost-effective too, considering the rent and the footfall", said Mr Shaikh. About 90 per cent of the stalls, room for 150 companies, had already been booked. The fair will feature exhibitions of Emirati cuisine, culture and falconry, as well as a gallery of Quranic verses and historical photographs of the UAE. Sharjah Health Zone will be offering free on-the-spot medical check-ups and charities will be running fund-raising stalls.