x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Ramadan is meant to be shared

By including non-Muslims in Ramadan celebrations, both societal and spiritual bonds can be strengthened.

Not long ago I joined friends and colleagues for a mass iftar at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

As the group's only Muslim, I looked forward to breaking the fast at such a big gathering. For my friends, though, it provided an insight into Emirati culture and the wider Muslim world.

The sense of occasion was immediate when our car entered the plush mosque grounds.

After the female members of our entourage received their customary abayas, we all began making our way to the iftar tents where the food would be served.

The atmosphere as we joined the hundreds attending was akin to the anticipation before a sports match or a concert.

Eventually, our group separated as the females went into their own tent, while my colleague and I made the longer walk to the male section.

The area was lined with nearly a dozen white tents and they were all crammed by the time we arrived.

One could understand the tents' appeal: they were air-conditioned. Meanwhile, for those of us who arrived later, we had to sweat it out by sitting on the finely manicured grass with our iftar boxes.

Before it was time to break the fast, I attempted, with the little knowledge I have, to impart some of the lessons behind Ramadan: the chance for spiritual renourishment, to foster empathy with those less fortunate and its teaching of patience.

But it was the communal spirit that spoke volumes as men from all walks - from the labourer to the businessman - sat together proving Ramadan is one of life's great equalisers.

When the athan was finally heard, gratitude and relief spread across the field as we all dug into our hefty servings of seasoned rice, tender lamb and salad and drinks including water, guava juice and laban.

Once sated, my colleague joined me in taking part in the Maghreb prayer inside the mosque's grand hall.

"Simple," I advised. "All you have to do is follow the actions and you're set."

It was a great way to end the day and I was gladdened my colleagues had a chance to view Ramadan as more than a time to have their meals or beverages in an allocated work room.

But to stop such experiences from being viewed as exceptions, the onus is on Muslims to extend a hand and invite non-worshippers to their homes or communal gatherings, where they can also share some of the joys of this blessed month.

Great initiatives such as the iftar at the Grand Mosque should be advertised more widely with a direct appeal made for expats to attend, as shunning them during the month goes against the spirit of the blessed month.

Through such steps, Ramadan can strengthen societal as well as spiritual bonds.

And with only a few days to go, why don't we start now?