Saturday, October 07, 2006

Ramadan Kareem: Emirates Today

It is now the middle of Ramadan. I have lived here for many years now, and Ramadan is part of the rhythm of the year: I know that it is about submission to Allah, and celebrating faith, family and community; I also know that, as with all things in Dubai, there is the private face and the commercial version (as there is for Christmas in developed Christian countries). I appreciate the difficulties of the devout of any denomination, who have to maintain their balance on a wire strung between the opposing poles of God and Mammon - thus has it ever been - but I don't really know about Ramadan. I thought I did, but really, as an outsider, I just put up with it.

Moreover, since my brain is hard-wired to my stomach, I can't get past the fact that my fasting colleagues (especially the wives and mothers, who I know have got their families up and out to school before work, and will be preparing Iftar and dinner for family and friends when they get home) must be dead-beat by the end of a day's teaching, so I don't like to bother them with questions, like some kind of religious tourist. So I don't know much beyond the obvious, except that two people have said the same thing to me about fasting: that normally they would not be able to do it, but that in Ramadan, Allah helps them. And everyone (even the weary cooks!) says how special this time is for friends and families.

Last year Emirates Today ran a Ramadan Diary written by Zarina Khan, journalist and Muslim daughter of a Pakistani father and an American mother. It was both illuminating and entertaining, and I never missed it.

This year's coverage has been expanded to a formal double-page feature of Ramadan news and photos from around the UAE; and Zarina's diary alternates with that of Adrian Murphy, a non-Muslim expat who has decided to observe the fast, actively engage with Ramadan, and report and reflect on his experience and conversation for us non-Muslim residents.

The Ramadan Special is sponsored by a property company whose billboards I first noticed in May; and is, I think, the culmination of a multi-headed campaign to establish its presence in the consciousness of potential customers, Arab, western - and probably NRIs too: I don't read the Khaleej Times, but I'll bet their green ink is there! The company has evidently spent hundreds of thousands of dirhams on their campaign which, I think, has been building to this current phase. However, while it may be strategic, it is not a gimmick. Good luck to them.

Certainly, there's nothing gimmicky or superficial about Adrian's diary. He's sincere, human, and doesn't take himself too seriously, in which he has much in common with Zarina. And like Zarina, he writes in a way that takes you there. His friends were obviously baffled by this at the outset, but they might be getting it now!

What got me thinking about this was the Fanoos link from M and J Adventures to Yes, I went for the cute icon, but it's a really interesting site that starts with an introduction to what Ramadan is all about, and links to other sites like a public science site called Moonwatch which begins with a fine picture of the new crescent moon in Oxfordshire at the beginning of Ramadan.

I think the Ramadan Special is timely too. There has surely never been such a bitter undercurrent to Ramadan before. With the whole of the UAE changing so fast, and Dubai fastest of all, there are more people, and under greater stress, than ever before. Oh yes, and the world's gone mad.

So there is plenty of scope for frustration and irritation, and there's probably never been a more pressing need for consideration and tolerance. Or objective journalism dedicated to the pursuit of high truth, not top dollar.

Shades of God and Mammon again?

Oh dear. You might want to get yourself a cup of tea before the next bit......

No comments: