x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The UAE's Ramadan bloggers reach out to the world

For many Muslims. the holy month provides an opportunity to share their ideas and customs via the web.

Shaima Al Sayed writes the blog shaimaalsayed.webs.com about her daily life during the holy month.
Shaima Al Sayed writes the blog shaimaalsayed.webs.com about her daily life during the holy month.

The holy month of Ramadan is Shaima Al Sayed's favourite time of year.

"I get totally overexcited, I completely love it," says the Ajman resident. "It feels like the whole world is supporting you and meditating with you."

This year and for the first time, Al Sayed decided to keep a record of her daily experiences in a blog: with the intention of learning from and sharing with other Muslims but also educating UAE residents in the process.

"I have a lot of expatriates in Dubai follow me," she says, "so it's all about breaking down stereotypes. For example, some people think that Ramadan is all about going to iftar tents - I don't - I've never been to one in my life. I'm not judging or saying it's wrong at all, I'm just saying there are many who don't live like that."

She is one of an increasing number of Muslims who have taken to the internet to blog their ups and downs as they get through the holy month. These bloggers provide an insight straight from the source - what's it really like to spend a month fasting, seeking spiritual closeness and finding a balance between religious obligations and social temptations.

Their diary entries are particularly frank, presenting a true picture of challenges that are as diverse as the bloggers who write them.

For Al Sayed, there is no bigger challenge than mustering the ability to fast in searing 40°C conditions with extended daylight hours. In her first post at shaimaalsayed.webs.com, she wrote: "I realise I need to just sit [in the car after walking nearly 15 minutes in the heat] and calm down, or else I will get thirsty beyond tolerance, and then of course grumpy … and I did vow to myself that I will keep my spirits high."

A world away, in suburban Toronto, Misha Zia ponders how different Ramadan is around the world at diaryofamuslimgirl.com. Even within her own family, she realises, there are different customs for breaking the fast. "It's kind of amazing to think that when you break your fast at sundown, there are thousands of Muslims in your vicinity breaking their fast at the exact same time," she writes.

"At the end of the day we're all doing the same thing [ie ending a 16+ hour day of fasting by asking God for forgiveness, praying for ourselves and our loved ones, and finally, eating], but it's interesting to note that since every home has a different rhythm, it means that the way you are used to breaking your fast will not be the same at another place."

Asma Baalawy's experience is based on how Ramadan is observed in her mother's native Zanzibar. At whytecoffee.posterous.com she writes about how a traditional iftar meal on the Tanzanian island includes pumpkin cooked in coconut, meat cutlets and spinach.

"And this goes without saying, but it's mandatory for our family to have lgeimat and my imported Vimto," she adds.

Food and in particular drink are naturally hot Ramadan blog topics and Shaima Al Tamimi, an Abu Dhabi resident, is one half of an Emirati duo writing about her iftar and suhoor experiences on blog.lgeimatjunkies.com. "Last year, Lateefa [Al Shamsi] and I felt the need to document our recipes and share our kitchen adventures with like-minded foodies." she says. "Nowadays, many people rely on domestic help or takeaways to feed themselves. One of our main goals was to demonstrate how easy and fun cooking can be.

"I always get questions about Ramadan, what we do, eat, where we go? So the diaries were made to enlighten people." She adds: "I've been inundated with positive feedback, especially from expatriates who know little about what goes on during this month."

Al Sayed is not surprised that Ramadan has become a hot social media topic.

"The new generation of Emiratis are extremely socially media aware, they're hooked on it," she says. "The youth are open to learning from others, which is great, especially if there's a group of bloggers who can set examples in Ramadan."

After August 31, says Al Sayed, her blog will most likely lay dormant for the next year, but for now she's focused on the countdown to Eid Al Fitr.

"Did you know salons and barbers stay open extra late in the last few days of Ramadan, often until 6am and queues go around the corner?" she asks.

"For women, henna is normally done the night before so the print is fresh and I'll also be writing about the mukhawar - which is embroidery every girl must have on her dress at Eid."