x

Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

The spirit of Ramadan is here, but why is it still so dark?

Decorations of light and colour, mainstays of the Holy Month, are on short display in Abu Dhabi this year. Time for an explanation?

Each year, Muslims around the world anxiously count down the days to the Holy Month of Ramadan, awaiting the festivities and gatherings that differentiate Ramadan from any other month of the Muslim calender.

And while every Muslim country observes its own traditions - from door to door visits by children to collect sweets to the sharing of unique dishes between neighbours - one tradition that is ubiquitous is the decorations that light up the streets. As with most major religious celebrations, the visual element of this spiritual month is essential to truly capture the spirit of Ramadan.

Yet, driving through the streets of Abu Dhabi one cannot help but notice the lack of effort put into this year's Ramadan decorations. In many parts of Abu Dhabi the decorations are non-existent. To be sure, the true importance of Ramadan lies with spiritual reflection and prayer, but decorations have always played a major role in allowing every resident of Abu Dhabi - Muslim or otherwise - to feel that Ramadan has finally arrived.

Those who are fortunate enough to have extended family in the UAE may not realise the importance of these decorations due to the fact that every day is spent sharing the joy of Ramadan with loved ones. But for those whose families live in another city or state, or for those who have only their spouses and children to celebrate with, the majestic lights that typically hang from every lamppost, tree or building served as reminders that the joy of Ramadan was felt and shared by all.

A few years ago, I began to notice the lack of Ramadan decorations in malls, hotels and other retail outlets. It was a concern at the time but nothing was made of it since it was understood that retail outlets likely had studied the outcome of reducing Ramadan decorations against the sale of their products.

But it is of greater concern when an individual or group in the Government decides to ignore certain parts of the city in terms of decorations. For reasons that are unclear, decorations this year have only been placed piece-meal and not in a uniform fashion.

In the suburbs of Abu Dhabi it is almost as if Ramadan has been forgotten. In Khalifa City A, for example, which is home to a rich mixture of national and expatriate households, there are only a few measly ornaments strung up on one road, a display that looks as if a single member of the community has gone into his or her own pockets to make up for the shortfall.

I could understand if the dearth of decorations was linked to the global financial downturn or the UAE's careful budgeting. But this does not seem to be the reason behind the omissions. If it were, wouldn't it have been communicated to the public?

And therein lies another issue that leaves many of us in shock or surprise when these decisions are made and implemented. To better manage public expectations more must be done to communicate decisions that affect the daily lives of residents, no matter how trivial they may seem.

One idea would be for community leaders to be chosen to represent their neighbourhoods and act as direct lines of communication with the government. These individuals would not have to have a say in the decision making process, but at least could be kept informed of Government decisions.

Community liaisons could then relay official policy via town hall meetings or even online. In this way the public would be better informed and have another venue by which to voice concerns. It is to the benefit of both the communities and the Government to act pro-actively in terms of sharing information.

It is understandable that people would feel disappointed that this Holy Month is not as colourful as past celebrations.

Most disappointing of all,however, is that many families don't know why.

 

Taryam Al Subaihi is an Abu Dhabi-based political and social commentator who specialises in corporate communications

On Twitter: @TaryamAlSubaihi