x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Holy month 'straying from tradition'

While the UAE enjoyed a commercial boom during Ramadan, some Muslims at the Ramadan and Eid Festival said non-traditional festivities after iftar erode the holy month's meaning.

Mohammed Daoh shows clothing to two women at the Ramadan and Eid festival.
Mohammed Daoh shows clothing to two women at the Ramadan and Eid festival.

ABU DHABI // While the UAE enjoyed a commercial boom during Ramadan, some Muslims at the Ramadan and Eid Festival said non-traditional festivities after iftar erode the holy month's meaning. Among the thousands of exhibitors in the National Exhibition Centre, some visitors and salesmen said shisha smoking, excessive shopping, all-you-can-eat buffets, game-playing and partying detract from worship and family time during Ramadan. "People play cards in coffee shops instead of praying taraweeh, the night prayer," a Emirati woman said. "With more expatriates, the UAE has become more liberal now, but serving alcohol during Ramadan is a step too far. They have crossed the threshold. We are losing our culture."

Most nightclubs do not play music during Ramadan but some serve alcohol and convert dance floors into lounges. Others close completely until after Eid al Fitr. But tents and coffee shops, offering shisha, drinks, snacks and a place to play card games, are widespread. "This is where you will find a lot of Emirati men in the evening," said Hasna al Blooshi, 28, an Emirati. "It's all about coffee shops, more so than shopping. The hotels don't even offer this kind of thing the rest of the year, but as soon as Ramadan comes, they open up to make more money."

Wisam al Estwani, 34, said: "Playing games is bad. You shouldn't do that in Ramadan. It is the month of God. In today's day and age things can get busy. I don't have time to read the Quran but I wish I did." A survey released last week said 67 per cent of Muslims in the Arab world think Ramadan is becoming "a bit too commercial". The survey, from Maktoob Research, polled 6,128 Muslims. It said 52 per cent would prefer restaurants close during the day, even for non-Muslims. In the UAE, 85 per cent said they fasted, compared with 100 per cent in Morocco and 99 per cent in Qatar, Egypt Saudi Arabia and Oman.

The festival, staged by Al Multaqa Exhibition Organisers, spans six halls and opens daily from 8pm to 3am, while Sunday is reserved for women. Wail Amer, the project manager, said as many as 8,000 people a day have attended. Stalls sell clothes, food, perfumes, jewellery, make-up and household goods. "I will buy my family presents for Eid, after Ramadan," said Nouf Ali, 17, a student. "But during Ramadan I pray and I read the Quran. All of the other things are bad." Sofia Chuenban, another shopper, said that Eid al Fitr was becoming "a bit like Christmas in the West".

Others, however, welcomed the increased business. "We have good sales in Ramadan," said Amir Hassoun, a salesman at the toiletries shop Khan Saboun. "We are praying first and then we go for all of that fun. We can do it all. It's good to have fun, but only after iftar." Three Islamic bookshops at the show are promoting religious media. Abdullah Manea owns one of them. "You can find these people smoking shisha and wasting their time during the night. I think over the last 10 years Ramadan has become more and more commercial," he said.

asafdar@thenational.ae