x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The Ali Story: Reflections of Ramadan

Ramadan isn't just fasting and it's not just praying. It's not just religious. It's more - it's making a new deal with your soul, spirit and heart.

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

This is about the point in Ramadan when the time begins to pass so quickly that we hardly realise the Holy Month is about to end.

The first few days of Ramadan always feel different and difficult to some people, but once you get into the third day to the end of the first week you're completely into it.

When I was young, I never understood my mother's point of view about Ramadan. She always prayed that she would have the chance to fast and to do all the religious rituals. When Ramadan came, she was always so excited.

My impression of Ramadan then is different to how I see it now. Looking back, it was really fun and it was beautiful because we were innocent children. Exciting things happened when Ramadan came and we stayed up late. And of course we were trying to imitate our parents, with their guidance on how to fast.

Today it's a mix of that but also with an understanding of the real value of this great Holy Month, when I see my mum and my sisters fasting and practising their religion and Ramadan's rituals.

I remember one of my little sisters - she's now married and has a daughter - and how we used to fight when we were young. And really fight - sometimes with fists - and at that age, it probably happened in Ramadan, too. Children, eh?

It was a normal thing between brothers and sisters, I guess, but we tried our best during the Holy Month not to fight. In fact we had no energy during the fasting hours but later in the evening it would be showtime again and more fights.

This makes me reflect and remember what I always teach in my Ramadan workshops that I conduct for various companies and people, that fasting is the easiest thing to do during Ramadan. It's staying nice and sweet to people that is really difficult.

My parents helped make me aware of that side of Ramadan. They kept on being the role models for us, in our house and outside, and they always did their best not to show any anger or get upset about anyone. They taught us that during Ramadan, we should charge our spirits with this value and try to feed it with pure politeness and taking things easy and not personally. Both my mum and dad were very supportive of us as we went through the Holy Month.

As I listened to my mum, my impression of the month would change. If you understand and appreciate Ramadan, then you'll change your behaviour. When you understand the significance of Ramadan, you'll be able to fast easily.

I started to fast when I was seven. By the time I was eight or nine, I would begin to see how behaviour changed during Ramadan. We'd see so many things as it progressed.

If you don't follow or observe Ramadan, you might not be able to feel it as completely. You're trying to kick out negative feelings from your life. You have to learn to become so patient. It's about not dissing others, not hurting others. And more likely it's about promising to add these values into your character and behaviour.

It's like a New Year's resolution. In the West, you can resolve to change things at any time but people traditionally do it at the new year. Here people do it in Ramadan. They could have done this at anytime but they choose this time.

I say to people that during Ramadan, you need to reverse yourself from anything bad, anything sinful or backbiting. We must do this every day.

The different behaviour in Ramadan is supposed to be something that continues throughout the year, so even after Eid Al Fitr, people should still have the spirit.

My father said the real benefit of Ramadan comes right after. You won't go back to what you were doing before; you'll continue to do positive things after Ramadan.

I was raised by my parents to believe that if I nurture my humanity and find it with my heart, I'll feel tolerance for so many things.

I wonder sometimes if the way the UAE welcomes people from all over the world is related to Ramadan because the changes that we go through are proof that humans are adaptable to different environments in life.

The UAE has had so many changes in the way we live. Since we have so many people from around the world living with us, things change in our society. We've accepted all these differences and change. Perhaps it came from Ramadan as a reminder, of course, of the spiritual part of our relationship with God.

For Emiratis, I think it's more than that. I think it's how we're willing to treat ourselves and enter into it spiritually because we have another 11 months to continue with the behaviour we change during Ramadan.

Ramadan isn't just fasting and it's not just praying. It's not just religious. It's more - it's making a new deal with your soul, spirit and heart. It's like resetting the clock - words I'll never forget from my parents.