x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Ask Ali: Remember Ramadan rules but enjoy the evenings

Advice and tips for living and working in the UAE.

Dear Ali: We are enjoying our first Ramadan in the UAE and wondered if you have any special tips about Ramadan life, particularly in the evening? SQ, Abu Dhabi

Dear SQ: When anybody travels to a different country to live, work or visit, it's always advisable to understand the culture and what matters to its people. Ramadan is one of the most important months to any Muslim, therefore many of us could get sensitive to actions that we face in other months but never act on. Living in a Muslim country during Ramadan is great because you will experience the hospitable and spiritual acts of our culture.

I would note a few things that expatriates in our country should remember during Ramadan. During the day, eating, chewing gum, drinking and smoking in public is viewed as disrespectful, so it's best to do those things in a private area allocated for this purpose, unless you are at your own home.

I encourage my expat friends to try to fast, at least one day. Most restaurants are closed during the day, except allocated ones in hotels. It's not recommended to offer or serve refreshments to your Muslim colleagues or visitors to your office. In terms of the evening, you can connect with the local culture by visiting the Ramadan bazaars and cultural activities that take place in various locations, from heritage villages to shopping malls and galleries. Many Emiratis go out during this period, and it seems like a big carnival, with all the lovely hospitality tents and entertainment programmes that take place during this period.

I advise you to accept if your Muslim friends invite you to their home. You don't have to bring something with you, but you may cook something or bring some sweets as a sign of appreciation for their invitation. Try not to leave right after you finish your iftar meal; stay until sweets are being served, then some tea or coffee, and leave before the isha prayer.

Muslims will always appreciate people who try to understand our culture better by involving themselves in the spirit of the month, even if it's a small thing such as saying the greeting "Ramadan Kareem" or attending an iftar.

Dear Ali: What Ramadan-related terms are most commonly used by Muslims globally? GR, Ajman

Dear GR: We'll start with Ramadan itself, the ninth month of the Islamic (lunar) calendar. The greeting Ramadan Kareem means "happy and blessed Ramadan". Sawm is the Arabic word for "fast" or "fasting" (literally "refrain"). Iftar means "break fast", the meal after sunset. Taraweeh are the special congregational prayers conducted after isha (night prayer). Suhoor is the pre-fast meal before dawn and fajr (the morning call to prayer). Qiyam al-Layl are prayers during the last 10 days of Ramadan. Eid Al Fitr is a three-day celebration marking the end of Ramadan, on the first day of the next Arabic month, Shawwal. Zakat al-Fitr is when Muslims annually give away a certain percentage of all that they own and distribute it to charity and the needy. Eid Mubarak is a greeting meaning "Have a happy and blessed Eid", expressed at the end of Ramadan.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.

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