Muslims in the UAE are presently gearing up for Ramadan, which according to astronomers looks likely to commence on Monday 1 September 2008.
Have you noticed the large number of emails and notices being put out like this one from the Fujairah Port, announcing the reduced Ramadan working hours?
It makes you think of the unbelievable cost that Ramadan is to a nation like the United Arab Emirates. Most businesses and educational institutions will be open this month for less hours and, as discussed earlier, most people who participate in the fasting and feasting get so tired that they only function on two cylinders if they show up for work or school at all.
Many of the books advising international companies about the UAE tell business people to forget trying to do deals during Ramadan. Furthermore, when tourist advisory services inform potential tourists of the difficulty of getting a meal or a beer in the Emirates during this holy month, then the financial cost for the country adds up significantly.
The faithful festival keeper would say that for these costs there is enormous gain, so what might be expected on the other side of the ledger?
The abstinence can bring physical benefits through detoxing from food, caffeine and nicotine.
The giving up of many of life’s necessities is supposed to increase willpower and patience. Going without food can increase one’s solidarity with the poor especially when this is accompanied by gift giving to special causes at this time.
The giving up of material things is designed to increase spiritual dependence and create more time for worship and prayer.
The giving up of grudges which characterizes this month is a terrific concept, especially if it moves from personal restoration to the international level of reconciliation with other countries and a greater understanding between peoples of different races and religions.
So will these anticipated benefits translate into personal, social and national wealth by the end of Ramadan or will all the fasting, sleeplessness and going without sex just make people grumpy?
Is it worth it when most people stack on piles of weight from feasting and does this only make them more frustrated than full of faith? Will all the shopping and gift giving only leave people more dejected by October when they read their bank statements?
Ramadan will be what people make it to be.
It is interesting and generous to see Islamic Advisers in the UAE encouraging people who are not believers to participate in a way that is honest and genuine for them—by sharing in Iftar meals, being open to hospitality that is extended and by eating and living more simply.
Why not give it a go? Devise your own special month. We've got nothing to lose except some weight, a caffeine addiction, some fractured relationships and some dirhams that might make a difference to someone’s quality of life.
What Do You Think?
Do you think these religious festivals have personal, social and national benefits or are they good in theory, not worth the cost and of little lasting consequence?
Dr Geoff Pound
Image: This Ramadan publicity that was put under my gate issues a call for hearty celebration and crass commercialism.
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