leading platform of tolerance, and was one of the venues Pope Francis visited during his historical visit to the United Arab Emirates last year.
Another impressive cultural experience during Ramadan was the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding, where expat guests are welcomed by Emiratis, and all sit together on Bedouin-style carpets to learn about the local culture under their motto ‘Open doors. Open minds’. Moeen, our gracious host, guided guests through the traditional customs and rituals. No questions were off-limits and he expertly entertained everyone throughout the evening. We savoured dishes of meat, rice and vegetables that were laid out before us and it was the first time I tried lugaimat, a dessert of sweet dumplings drenched in a delectable date sauce.
Throughout the streets and into the deserts, Team Iftar, a group of volunteers, have for the past ten odd years given their time resolutely to serve an average of twenty thousand meals per day (they do this outside of Ramadan by the way, but the numbers are greater during Ramadan) to bedouins and labourers. They say their main motivation is just to help people – a religious instruction from Allah and the Prophet Muhammed. An act they will “carry out until their last breath”.
The twenty-nine days disappeared rapidly. Before I knew it, I was receiving a message from a friend just as I arrived home from what was my last Iftar, with fifteen hundred laborers at a mosque in an industrial area of Dubai. “It’s over. Well done! You have done it”. I sat in a daze, not quite believing it myself. I felt proud to have taken on the challenge and reflected on how much it had changed me.
Ramadan then moved into the celebratory Eid al-Fitr (Festival of the Breaking of the Fast), which marks the end of the month of Ramadan and gifts are shared.
I was in awe of my friends who did this ritual every year, and I loved the passion and dedication they showed towards their faith. I felt enlightened and empowered with my newfound awareness and respect towards a culture I had lived in without really experiencing before – and proud to be living in a country whose year-long theme had been The Year of Tolerance. It spoke volumes and inspired the millions who reside in this peaceful country.
We are now faced with the surreal experience of enforced isolation around the world, and this Ramadan it’s highly unlikely anyone will get to gather outside of their homes. If anything, it will pare this historic occasion right back to its roots but with a required online twist and an ask for the world to adapt for its own safety, as we figure our way through this time.
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