So, it’s Ramadan. For my readers who don’t really know what Ramadan is, it is the Islamic month of fasting. It’s about more than just refraining from eating and drinking, but instead is meant to help Muslims focus on God, practice self-discipline and sacrifice, do away with bad habits, strengthen ties with friends and family, be grateful for their blessings, and share with those in need. Although it sounds at first like a time of deprivation, it is also a month of great celebration. I have only experienced it here in the UAE, but it is definitely a month like no other and I’ve learned a lot.
In honour of Ramadan, I decided to share the things I most appreciate about living in this Muslim country. Of course, this is just one small country, and with 1 billion Muslim people in the world, the diversity of how their faith is expressed is obvious. But, in this tiny little corner of the world, I have come to appreciate a lot of things about this culture and I wanted to share them with you.
When I first considered writing this post I thought, “What are my fellow Christian readers going to think of this post?” Then I thought, “What are my Muslim readers going to think of this post?” And then I thought, “What are my non-religious readers going to think of this post?” All of which led me to think, “Why exactly did I want to write this post again…?”
Why would I open up this can of worms? I came up with these reasons:
-When you live in a country that is founded on a faith different from your own, you can consider it weird and hostile or you can consider it an opportunity to learn and grow and be challenged and changed. I think you know where I land when faced with this choice.
-I’m a joy seeker, and looking at the things I love about this culture has helped me find joy and I’d love to spread it around.
-My Muslim friends are delightful people and I want to celebrate them.
-We don’t have to share the same faith to recognize that we all have so, so much in common. Focusing on the positive things we see in each other and the diverse ways we represent humanity could really change the world. This is my small world-changing act today.
4 Things I Appreciate About Living In This Muslim Country:
1. The Call to Prayer. Five times a day, from the minaret of every mosque, a muezzin calls Muslims to pray. He begins and ends by calling out that God is the greatest and that there is only one God. I share this belief with my Muslim friends, and I personally appreciate the regular reminders of this throughout my day. Whether I’m frustrated, overwhelmed, content, or apathetic, there is never a bad moment to be reminded that God is greater than what I’m facing.
2. Hospitality. I have seen hospitality extended in many different cultures, but wow, the Arabic folks have really got this nailed. Such warm embrace and extravagant offerings of food and drinks. It’s not just what’s offered, it’s how it’s offered. As if nothing is more important than making you feel welcome. It’s a gift.
3. Modesty. There are a number of reasons why Muslim people cover themselves, and many of them resonate with me. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not just the women who dress conservatively. At least in the Emirates, the men also cover their heads and wear long kanduras. I have never seen an Emirati man’s legs. In my opinion, it’s not a bad thing when my whole family asks before leaving the house, “Is this appropriate?” Not because we are worried about judgement, but simply because we are considering other people and our affect on them.
4. Focus on family/community/leisure. When work is finished here, work is finished. Work doesn’t come home. After work, it’s time for family, friends, and enjoying life. If you’ve been to the UAE, you will have noticed that folks here like to drive fast. (understatement) But since we first arrived I noticed that even though they drive fast, they walk slow. No one is rushing. They are taking their time, talking to one another, enjoying the person sitting in front of them and relaxing. It’s a pace and a focus that took time to adjust to, but I’ve learned to slow my driven, efficient, time-manage-y self down, and savor more moments.
These are just a few things I’ve learned from my neighbors on this side of the world, and I’ve been changed. Ramadan Kareem.