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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Ramadan teaches us all how to be tolerant

The holy month is a special time for Muslims and non-Muslims with a message of peace

Sunset at Sheikh Zayed Mosque before Ramadan 2018 begins. Victor Besa / The National
Sunset at Sheikh Zayed Mosque before Ramadan 2018 begins. Victor Besa / The National

The colourful lanterns have been strung from eaves, the cupboards filled with dates and the preparations for the first iftar of the holy month, from thirst-quenching jallab to Gulf specialities like thareed, harees and molokhiya, are already underway.

Ramadan is a special time in the region, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. For Muslims, it is a time to reflect on the year that has passed, to take stock and to focus on spirituality, self-control and humility.

As one of the five pillars of Islam, the lesson in abstinence is not simply one of refraining from the physical gratification of eating, drinking or smoking, from dawn until dusk.

Muslims are also urged to exercise restraint in their thoughts and actions, to express empathy for those less fortunate and to get closer in their religious practice to God.

But this is an equally special time for those who are not practising Muslims, whether it involves the ceremonial splendour of being invited to take part in an iftar or suhoor, traditionally beginning with dates and laban or sweet hibiscus-infused karkadi; soaking up the spectacle of streets and malls lit up with Ramadan lights and the throngs that often gather into the early hours; or enjoying the tranquillity that cloaks cities and roads as peace prevails and their inhabitants spend rare quality time with their families.

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Read more on Ramadan 2018:

Moon-sighting committee meets to determine first day of Ramadan

Ramadan FAQs: all you need to know about the holy month in the UAE

Ramadan 2018: what to watch

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The emphasis on charity and selflessness is not merely the province of those who are fasting: there are numerous opportunities to volunteer across the UAE, whether that involves packing Ramadan parcels for the needy, serving meals to workers at an iftar or doing a kindly deed for a neighbour.

It behoves us all to remember those who could benefit from random acts of kindness during the holy month.

And it is important to remember to be patient and respectful towards those who are fasting as tempers might fray as the challenges of the next 30 days take their toll. Ramadan serves to teach us all a lesson in tolerance.

The month is also symbolic of unity as Muslims around the world unite in a common celebration.

The dishes on the table might differ from Morocco to Indonesia, from Palestine to Bahrain, but the sentiment they are served up with is the same: a message of peace, spirituality and calm.

At a time when the region is fractured by conflict and violence frequently rears its head, that message has particular resonance.