View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ramadan Reflection on Fasting and Feasting

Like Christmas in some countries Ramadan is fast being influenced by commercial pressures and is becoming for many a cultural observance that is coming adrift from its religious foundations. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of food.

A UAE Gulf News article at the outset of Ramadan was entitled, ‘Shoppers Set for the Good Times during Ramadan’. The report not only assured customers that essential supplies would be in the supermarkets at regular or improved prices but there would be stocks of special food available for consumption each night after sunset.

Another article from the same newspaper and in the pre-Ramadan period was headed, ‘Iftar Indulgence in the UAE’. It was packed with reviews and recommendations for restaurants offering the traditional and sumptuous meals.

What good is a strict observance of a fast throughout the day if it involves time-consuming preparation of food, followed by hours of rich feasting that leaves one carrying more weight at Eid-al-Fitr? It doesn’t make religious or dietary sense to do without eating, drinking and food preparation for the daylight hours if this is followed by carbohydrate loading for much of the night.

Having highlighted the danger of extremes, it is important to affirm that hospitality and reconciliation are key themes of Ramadan and the giving and sharing of food can be symbolic of building friendship and community. To eat special food at this season, like a date to break the fast, can build solidarity with the fathers and mothers of the faith who have observed these traditions for centuries.

Whatever festival we observe it is good to stand back and ask why we do it and ponder the extent to which our participation is unduly influenced by ritual and commercial pressures.

What do you think? Are the pressures to buy and feast at Ramadan becoming stronger? Is this a problem with businesses cashing in on religious festivals?

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: ‘Consumers have a wide choice during Ramadan shopping at Al Wahda Mall’s Lulu Hypermarket in Abu Dhabi’ says the caption to this photo in a Gulf News article (Photo courtesy of Ahmed Kitty, Gulf News).