How to observe the holy month, and appreciate its true spirit and meaning.
Ask Ali: On Ramadan
Dear Ali: Last year, on the first day of Ramadan, I saw a European couple kissing in a mall before Iftar time. It really shocked everyone passing by, yet we didn't have the courage to complain so as to avoid problems and drama. I want to know what is the correct way to approach this issue. Is enough being done to let foreigners know that such behaviour is simply not acceptable? DK, Dubai
Dear DK: Indeed, it is a very disturbing situation, especially as it happened in the holy month of Ramadan. Sometimes, I wonder if people do that regardless of whether they are aware of the rules. I think the authorities are doing what they can to politely convey the message without offending anyone. It is not in our nature to be rude when it comes to confrontations, so we always try to be diplomatic at first. Also, why did nobody complain when they saw the couple kissing? I think we try to let things go because it's actually embarrassing for us to acknowledge it, and then we gradually suffer the consequences. Do you ever wonder what all this "Emirati identity" hype is all about? It's small things like that; the more we keep quiet the more our children will be exposed to such acts in a Muslim country.
Therefore, the best thing to do is to approach the couple first, and politely let them know that what they are doing is wrong. If by any chance they give you attitude, then it's time to involve the mall security staff since they are trained to handle such matters. There are flyers posted all over the mall windows on the best way to conduct yourself, and this is applicable to all visitors. I suggest that people take such guidelines seriously in order to save us all unnecessary embarrassment.
Dear Ali: I'm very much aware of the Ramadan rules and regulations, and I think it's a beautiful way to explore your faith. What I'd like to know is: in what possible way can I enjoy the Ramadan spirit to the full? NT, Sharjah
Dear NT: Why not give fasting a try for one day? You may find it challenging, but it is one of the best ways to know what Ramadan feels like to us. Try waking up before dawn for Suhoor - a light meal that helps to give us enough energy during the fasting hours. It's usually fun when all members of the family wake up at the same time.
If you decide not to fast, then go for Iftar, either at a friend's place or at the many restaurants that offer delicious banquets of Arabic cuisine from around the region.
It is preferable that you don't have a heavy lunch so you can enjoy your Iftar. If you're living in an area with many villas, you may see children going out with plates of food to give to their neighbours, or to labourers. This act really encapsulates the Ramadan spirit as it is a time to emphasise giving. Some neighbourhoods may be adorned with lanterns, and our malls are also decorated.
Furthermore, during Ramadan, the malls are a great place to observe our culture as the management arranges shows and live cooking demonstrations by the elderly women who excel in creating Emirati snacks like lugaymat, khmeer, chabab and so on. Check out our Iftar programme at my Facebook page - the Ask Ali Official Fan Page - or my Twitter account as I welcome friends old and new to join me at our Ramadan Iftar sessions. Also, in Dubai you may check the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding at www.cultures.ae where they also offer great Iftar sessions.
Whenever you want to describe someone as respectful in Arabic, you can say "el shakhs mohataram", meaning "respectable person".