x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Non-Muslims embrace the spirit of Ramadan

Embracing the principles of Ramadan helped two expatriates gain a greater understanding of the UAE and Islam.

Non-Muslim Lauren Doble handing out iftar meals at the Al Wasl / Al Hadiqa junctions for the charity group Ramadan Aman.
Non-Muslim Lauren Doble handing out iftar meals at the Al Wasl / Al Hadiqa junctions for the charity group Ramadan Aman.

DUBAI // During Ramadan a number of non-Muslims embraced the holy month and used it as a time to explore the local culture more deeply.

For Lauren Doble, 22, a communications executive at the Arabian Gulf League, formerly the UAE Pro League, it was the second year she tried fasting.

Ms Doble, from England, said the process is eased because she is surrounded by Emiratis. When she first came to the UAE last year, she lived for three months with an Emirati family.

"I wanted to join in and experience Ramadan properly," she said. "I found it cleansing for the mind and soul. It gives you so much more time during the day to think of things other than food and you appreciate food so much more when you break the fast."

During Ramadan she wears the abaya and now takes to wearing it even for certain occasions with her local friends.

"Fasting has been much easier this time around," she said. "My body wasn't used to it (last year), though even after the first week last year it became easier."

She said the most challenging part was her commute to Abu Dhabi two or three times a week. She found herself becoming dehydrated.

During the day, when she was not working, she was the only non-local to volunteer with a charity called Ramadan Aman, supported by the Dubai Police. The group offered iftar meals to drivers at some of the country's most accident-prone junctions to discourage people speeding home to break the fast. Locations included Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman.

Elisha Elliott, from Australia, has also been in the UAE for two years. Last year she fasted for one day and this year she increased her fasting to 15 days.

"I've always had local clients and we had been talking about what they go through during Ramadan, so I wanted to see what it felt like," Ms Elliott, 28, said of the pilates classes she teaches.

"I have so many local clients who have really opened my mind to the local culture, their beliefs and religion. These are women who don't change their lives during Ramadan, it just becomes a bit more challenging. They still come and train with me: they don't sleep all day and eat all night."

Ms Elliott said that fasting has brought her closer to the people she now calls friends.

"It's really made me think about what my body actually needs rather than the food and drink you have from habit, though the water has been the hardest part."

She, too, continued to teach for sometimes up to 10 hours a day in a very physical job. Though she said she feels more physically fit than she ever has since moving to Dubai.

"I will certainly be looking more into intermittent fasting," she said. "I've learnt so much more about my local clients and their real beliefs and I feel very lucky to have this insight. So many expats don't get to have that and feel lucky to have these relationships."

Laila Al Ghurair has been a student of Ms Elliott's for two years. She is one of the women Ms Elliott credits for providing her inspiration.

"So many expats come here and don't understand the local culture but Elisha has asked many questions and wanted to understand life here better," Mrs Al Ghurair said. "She had an idea that people's lives totally change in Ramadan, which is not true. It is simply that it's about refreshing yourself and your soul."

mswan@thenational.ae