x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

True spirit revealed as I studied abroad

Ramadan in many Muslim countries has lost its purpose.

Ramadan in many Muslim countries has lost its purpose. The spirit of Ramadan revolved around the concept of salvation from human greed and to taste the sourness of need.

Ramadan was created to develop our sense of empathy towards those less fortunate and teach us to value the gifts we were blessed with by Allah.

All these have been forgotten in time, and the true spirit of Ramadan has vanished. In its place, a new identity has formed that contradicts all the values that Ramadan was set to serve and only a few people really follow the true and main pillar of Islam.

These men and women are mostly found in the hardest parts of the world. They are truly devoted to the promise they have made and are usually either new converts or those who choose to show their dedication through their isolation.

For as many years as I can remember, Ramadan has been a month in which we practise our five prayers on time in the mosque, when families gather around for dinner, sometimes share shisha and play cards with friends.

During my time studying in the UK, while living on a tight budget set by my sponsor, I missed the tables filled with food that usually could be seen only on special occasions, but in our house was served on a daily basis, from the national meal of harees to Arabic pastries such as the delicious kunafa.

In England, with its renowned horrible weather, I was able to feel the true reason behind Ramadan. I lived as any university student does, on a diet of fish and chips and cheap food from convenience stores, and only then was I able to experience what Ramadan has to offer and the true purpose of Ramadan in a non-Islamic country.

I didn't find the cosiness that I would usually find at home; I had to try fasting while attending classes, while other people stank of egg and beans and others smelled of beer, which is the last thing you want to smell while fasting.

Ramadan is not simply a form of gastric band for your appetite; it should stop people from indulging in other things, from interacting with women on a personal level who are not directly related to them. In the UK, I felt the true sense of this test as I was surrounded by women in my class who were extremely personable with no sense of personal space.

Now the mission for hardening your stamina has to be on full. Otherwise one temptation can lead to another, and the fast is quickly broken, as simple as that.

I have learnt the hard way from just how serious others were about practising their beliefs by joining Islamic missionaries who are actively involved in spreading religious guidance and reminding us of our role as Muslims to be peaceful and respectful to other cultures.

I experienced this around the time the heat was rising against Muslims, particularly during the years of my stay in the UK.

All backgrounds, from GPs to janitors sat together around one table and spent most of their time either praying or being involved in some Islamic event.

Through this shared community rose the sense of being a true believer, not just a Muslim by name.

* Jad Al Qubati, 33, from Abu Dhabi, is the managing director of a media and marketing company