general info WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE AT SMCCU IN RAMADAN?
What Is It Like To Be At SMCCU In Ramadan?
Updated on 07 May 2019

By: Colleen ‘Salamah’ Stephenson

Every year for over twenty years The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding hosts unique Ramadan Iftars in our historical, windtower houses in Al-Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. Our team expands during this special month to include dozens of Emirati volunteers; often university students; some coming from neighbouring Emirates even, to take part in this one of a kind Iftar in the whole region. Our Emirati hosts share the authentic and sacred experience of Breaking the Fast with a meal called Iftar, intriguing interactions, watching the team and Muslim guests pray the short sunset prayer and then all dive into a full Emirati buffet and a unique walk under the stars and windtowers for a visit to the rulers Diwan Mosque. During these Iftars, our guests get to partake in our famous Open Doors, Open Minds question and answer session, as they do in all of our activities year- round.

Why do we work more during Ramadan, while other’s take time off or shorten their hours? Our job is not rewarded as others. It does not matter what salary or thanks the staff or volunteers receive at the end of the month; it is during the month we are repaid by our guests’ comments, because it is just the type of people we are. “We had no idea Emirati people were this friendly!” “How did you all wait for us to fill our plates of food, while you all are the ones fasting!” “I never imagined watching a prayer or going to the mosque would be such a laid back, comfortable experience!” Our team love breaking stereotypes by simply representing the truth. These two houses in Al Fahidi are our homes and so we treat everyone as a personal guest. The types of people we have on our team are completely devoted to the culture, traditions and manners of the Emirates. All get grouped onto teams, so we are in a rotation and ensure all have time at home with their families and for the more traditional routes of worship during the Holy month.

A pre-dawn meal called Suhur is to prepare the fasting person to complete the days fast. This meal can be consumed anytime during the night and can vary per person from a whole meal to a small glass of water. Intention is then given to fast; ensuring this is worship and not a diet. Iftar is the breaking of the fast meal, which instantly begins when the call to prayer is heard at sunset. The most common Iftar starts with dates & water, followed by some light food. Muslims then pray the Maghrib prayer and return to eat the main dishes. Muslims often snack in the evening and night; especially during social and family visits and sip as much water as possible due to the summer season we are in.

The Quran, is the Muslim Holy Book and we all try to read through it entirely as it has been sectioned off especially to read through the month. After the night prayer in Ramadan, we have extra prayers called Taraweh, which can last for an hour or two. In the last third of the night, over the last ten night of Ramadan, there are additional prayers called Qiyam Al Layl which happen after midnight. As much charity is given during this month as one can give in as many ways as possible. The whole month is an exercise in patience, discipline and the difference between ‘wants and needs’ become clear. A few gentlemen take part also in Itiqaf, which is the seclusion in the mosque during these last ten nights, and in which every Muslim community worldwide needs to have participants. The month is then summed up at the very end where all provide the equivalent of two double-handfulls of a non-perishable food to the poor prior to the final Eid Prayer. The hope is that these lessons and renewed connection to our fellow humanity continues throughout the year, until the next Ramadan.

Muslims are required to fast for the month of Ramadan as it is one of the five pillars of faith which must be adhered to. However due to certain circumstances some Muslims are forgiven from fasting. Travelers do not fast while on their journey. The young and the elderly do not need to fast, but can if they feel up for the challenge. Muslims who are very sick or the delay of oral medication until night would cause more harm to the body or irreversible damage do not fast.  Menstruating women do not fast to allow them nourishment. Breastfeeding and pregnant Muslims determine for themselves or take doctor’s advice as to if they are able to safely fast or not, due to the needs of their body and their baby. Depending on the case of the non-fasting Muslim, they will either make up the missed fast after Ramadan or pay the value of a meal to the poor. Everyone though in the U.A.E. Muslim or not fast while in public for community cohesion.

Your question on Ramadan, Islam or the Emirati culture wasn’t above? You are more than welcome to contact SMCCU for a memorable experience, especially before this holy month comes to an end.

With thanks to Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Call 04-3536666 or visit www.cultures.ae

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