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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Dubai's senior religious leader calls on Muslims to find balance between outings and worship during Ramadan

Grand Mufti at Awqaf in Dubai, Ali Meshal, said that some Muslims have become distracted from the true purpose of the holy month

Mathilde Loujayne, an author who converted to Islam, meets with fellow women to discuss balance in Islam and Ramadan. Satish Kumar for The National 
Mathilde Loujayne, an author who converted to Islam, meets with fellow women to discuss balance in Islam and Ramadan. Satish Kumar for The National 

Dubai’s most senior religious leader has urged Muslims not to forget the true meaning of the holy month and to take the opportunity to embrace family life and tradition.

Whether it is dining every night at Ramadan tents or spending too much time at the mall, a balance must be struck between activities and worship, the Grand Mufti of Awqaf in Dubai said.

“Those types of activities distract us from the true meaning of Ramadan,” said Grand Mufti Ali Meshal.

“More time should be spent on performing worships and helping the needy.”

During the holy month, some Muslims move their usual day time activities to the evenings, staying up late and sleeping during the day.

He said those people have misunderstood what the holy month is about.

“Some sleep during the daytime in Ramadan, assuming that fasting is only about abstaining from food and drinks.”

He said this distraction was due to a lack of knowledge about Islam.

“Some are not enthusiastic about learning about the reasons behind fasting.”

Not painting all Muslims with the same brush, the Grand Mufti said there were still some who devote their days and nights to worship but those who have allowed themselves to forget the true purpose of Ramadan were “suffering from ignorance”.

“Most are focusing less on spiritualities and worshipping Allah due to lack of knowledge about their religion.”

He said this could be remedied by attending lectures and reaching out to scholars.

Kirsty Heaton, a Briton living in Dubai, agreed with the Grand Mufti, saying Ramadan was more about feeding the soul than feeding the body.

“Shopping and other activities have no place in Ramadan. For me personally, it’s a time to pray, do charity work and give more,” said Ms Heaton, who converted to Islam at age 18.

After living in the UAE for 32 years, she says the key to a successful Ramadan is balance.

“Those who want to carry out activities in Ramadan, they can balance it with spiritual things they can do at home.

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“In my opinion, spirituality is not just about praying. They can be helping others and spending time friends in a good way. I know a lot of people whose kids get together and organise a community event, such as Ramadan fridges,” she said.

A fellow convert and resident of Dubai, Mathilde Loujayne, said moderation is essential.

“Ramadan is a time to reflect. It’s a month of fasting, not feasting. We have only this month in the whole year to build a relationship with God. It’s a great time to feel the poor and those who are unable to prepare lavish meals.”

The 34-year-old author of Big Little Steps, a women’s guide to Islam, converted to the religion at age 18 after struggling with the loss of a loved one.

“Everything in Islam about moderation. The more you learn about Islam, the more you find this balance,” she said.

The spirit of the month can even rub off on non-Muslims living in the UAE.

Kira Jean, a 31-year-old Australian, is married to an Emirati man and has recently begun to embrace Ramadan.

“I did not convert to Islam. However, I have been fasting for the past five years and I am at the journey of understanding it,” she said.

“Marrying my husband was the kind of door that opened for me to start looking into Islam, what it is all about and how can I support him in his spirituality. Experiencing Ramadan with through him and my in laws has been wonderful."

She said she was particularly conscious of wasting food during the holy month.

“Although the panic settles in and we feel like shops going to close or something as Ramadan starts, we should not cave into that. We need little food to be full and feel happy,” she said.

Ms Heaton said she too was conscious of her food purchases during Ramadan.

“Over the years, I found that the amount of food consumed is a lot less. When I go to the markets and see these trolleys piled high and people in a panic. Oh gosh they think that these supermarkets are going to close.

“My mother in law pointed out to me saying “we are buying to be giving”.

Bisher Saeed, a 38-year-old Emirati, said he finds balance during Ramadan by spending weekdays with his family and weekends with his friends.

“I try my best to co-ordinate my time between worshipping God, gathering with the family and friends.”

Ahead of speaking to The National, Mr Saeed was en route to watch a football match, though he said this midweek outing was an exception.

“This is a major football game. Everyone will be watching the game.”

His compatriot, Mohammed Al Hashemi, was enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend, when he said: “The current way of approaching Ramadan is quite different than the old times. Although there are several distractions, a person who wants to worship God can ignore them all.

“It differs from person to person. Some sleep in the daytime and wake up to have iftar meals. Young people must be educated about the importance of fasting,” the 29-year-old said.