x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

At Ramadan, a year's worth of things to be thankful for

Ramadan with friends from around the region makes it clear what a year of change we have had, and how much there still is to pray for.

In the masjid we recently had a pre-Ramadan party, and this halaqa was the biggest I have seen over the nine years that I've lived in UAE.

What's changed?

In a word: the world.

When I first arrived at my little jamaa - which means centre of learning and that it is, for sure - there were just a handful of us on the women's side. Now I can't count them all. There are just too many of us. Come early or late, there's always a crowd. These women hail from the neighbourhood and from faraway zones of hardship, such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan and Uganda.

And I'm the American in the thick of it, trying to learn her lines of the Quran like everyone else (and not doing very well).

With each conflict and difficulty around the region, it seems that the UAE becomes a refuge, a place to escape the hardships of the wider world. Indeed, there is much more to the UAE than "bling" or the idea of "biggest and best".

There is something more critical to the good life, and that is tranquillity. Such peace can bring coolness, or at least a nonchalant attitude, that can help us cope during the heat and scorching sun of the summer. I hope all of my fellow Muslims around the world this Ramadan will experience the type of tranquillity one experiences here.

I realise how lucky I am when I think of those in Syria, especially the girl from my masjid, who left the peace of the UAE to attend university in Homs. I pray that she is safe and well. Or when I think about the Iraqis who sought refuge in Syria, and who just this week were airlifted home.

I am not the only one blessed this year, of course. Think about all those in Egypt, who elected their first-ever democratically chosen president - from the once outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Could they have fathomed a life without Hosni Mubarak?

And Libya. They've just had their first elections since who knows when? I wish I could stand with them in the tarawih prayers and listen to their hopes and plans for this newest of new Ramadans.

Last year, we prayed for Egypt to get a new government and a new future. Eid has already come to the Egyptians, who were giving out chocolates to friends, neighbours and strangers as they celebrated the election of their new president, Mohammed Morsi. I am glad for them and join them in their traditional saying: "May you be well and the whole year a good one for you."

Last year when my best friend was in Syria, she sent me her number to call so I wouldn't worry. This year, she's here and like me, wondering how will we make it through the heat. I've done it many times before, unlike her; she is usually gone by the second week of May. Back then, Syrians were protesting for change. I am sure that no one imagined that it would come to full-scale bombs and destruction.

Allah is the best of planners and despite the problems that brought many of those who are seeking the UAE's peace and tranquillity, I'm glad that they are here. I'll be sad on the day that they go back home - but I will also be happy for them as they leave to begin their shiny new futures.

Last year, I prayed for the end of the conflicts, wars and strife, and in many ways my prayers were answered. Of course, I will continue to pray for Syria and all of those who are suffering through hardship, wars and random bombings, wherever there are. I hope that their hardships are soon over and that when their Eid comes they too will be passing out chocolates.


Maryam Ismail is a sociologist and teacher who divides her time between the US and the UAE