x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The Ali Story: My first Ramadan

In this serialised feature, Ali Al Saloom shares his insight and experiences from growing up in the UAE.

In this serialised feature, Ali Al Saloom shares his insight and experiences from growing up in the UAE.

The first time I fasted during Ramadan was when I was 7. I was to be a man, a really good boy to my father, and say: "Look at me, I'm fasting."

During Ramadan, my mum would go to sleep early so she could get up early and make something to eat. We would eat before we went to bed – 2am or 3am – and not many of us would wake up before dawn.

Some people would eat before fajr (the dawn prayer) but some, like myself, would go without anything. In that first year, I'd sneak out to the water fountain and try to have some water because I was thirsty. That was not really seen as bad because we were children – but the school didn't have any water.

You don't cheat because we're a collective society and it would reflect on your parents. Everything you do reflects on your parents. In a way, it's a very easy thing to do: fast and go to the mosque and pray. If you don't fast, it reflects badly on the way you've been supervised and it embarrasses your family. Our culture values these things a lot.

Because I was living in Bani Yas, where it's more conservative than in the city, parents exerted more control over what influenced us and what we watched on television. Mostly, my memories of that Ramadan were of a really fun time. I'd say that most children look forward to it. Why? When you're a child, it's a time when you can really enjoy your family and value them even more than usual.

It was only when I was older that I began to appreciate other aspects of it.

When I was 7, I remember waking up and my mum taking care of me, helping me to get ready for school. As soon as we all got on the bus, we'd start fighting and having fun.

School was later - we would go at 8am or 9am instead of 7am - and obviously we went home earlier.

Our parents were most likely to be tired and fasting or would go to bed. Mum would be in the kitchen, starting the iftar dinner.

Some of the girls would be sleeping. Some would be helping their mothers to make iftar.

Most of them used to watch television because all the major soap operas are on during this month.

The women would be inside their houses, watching these shows and crying. For all the boys in the neighbourhood, our strategy was to play football and forget that we were fasting - we played and played until we heard the call to prayer.

I'm a proud Muslim, a proud Arab and a proud Emirati. What Ramadan means to me has largely been passed down from my parents.

My father would call to say he was coming home and my mother would give me a bath, comb my hair and make sure my kandura looked really smart. She made me look and smell nice, ensured my hair was tidy and that I didn't have any scratches on my face from playing in the street.

She said: "Ramadan is when God is our guest and we're trying to greet and welcome him very nicely so we have to look good and be good and have a good heart."

Ramadan is a guest who reminds you of these great gifts from God. All you're required to do is sense it and show a sincere appreciation for all of it.

The nickname we give Ramadan is the God month. It's when the Quran was revealed to The Prophet Mohammed. You have to appreciate that God has given you a family, a job, knowledge and health. Ramadan is a guest who reminds you of these values. All you have to do is sense it and to say thank you for all of it.

You're fasting to gain purification. It's also about appreciating hungry people and God's gifts that have been given to you.

I say: "I'm going to change, I'm going to be better, I'm going to improve my behaviour if it wasn't good."

It's when you make a new resolution of your religious rituals to be better and to do better.

Of course, there are Emiratis who don't care to fast. If people aren't fasting, it's a sign to me about who you have as friends and really shouldn't hang out with them because if someone doesn't have respect for God's word or God's religion, then how could you trust that friendship? They wouldn't care about me.

My Ramadan memories can't be completed without highlighting that Eid has always been magical for all children in all of the Muslim world. That's because during Eid, children tend to become like little bankers, since every adult will be giving them some dirhams as a gift. And I can't forget the new, little kanduras that our fathers would ensure we would be fitted for at the tailor's, and some new sandals. New everything, almost, and certainly a new haircut. Eid was happiness until the last dirham.

Ramadan Mubarak!