Gina (Hayat) Broodryk, South African co-founder at Preloved Nation
I arrived in the UAE in 2001 and embraced Islam in June 2006. I remember the day I went to take Shahada (Islamic oath) in the Dubai Courts. I sat in my car, repeating it over and over before I went in, because I wanted to say it by heart and not repeat after the judge.
My first Ramadan, however, was in November 2001. Two colleagues invited me to iftar on the first day of Ramadan. From that day I was committed to fasting every year.
I must say, my first attempt at fasting was a purifying experience. By the end of the month, I felt calm and centred.
My husband, Ahmed, is an Egyptian born and raised in the UAE. I’ve never had the opportunity to experience Ramadan in Egypt. However, we did travel to South Africa in 2009 during Ramadan and I remember seeing my home country in a new light. We had stopped close to a small mosque for lunch and the Imam (person who leads the prayer) invited us for iftar at his home. It was heart-warming to see how eagerly his family welcomed us.
Ramadan is a very precious time for us as a family. It passes so quickly, so we try to make the most of it. My son Karim is 13 and observes fasts occasionally. My daughter Noor was born on the first day of Ramadan 2013, and she proudly shares that fact with everybody. She fasted for the first time last year.
Last year during Ramadan, we were unable to go to the mosque for the Taraweeh prayers because of the pandemic protocols that were in place. So, we performed those prayers at home decorating the house with small lights to create a peaceful ambience and encourage quiet time to reflect. The decorating starts two weeks before Eid. Noor gets all her art and craft things out and loves making lanterns and decorations. Kareem helps out in hanging the lights. He calls it the Ramadan Kareem ambience.
We have a few Ramadan and Islamic story books and love to read from it while we all sit on our prayer mats. Thanks to Zoom, we were also able to keep in touch with family, even if virtually. It is hard to imagine how life would have been if Covid happened during the 90s. I stay in contact with my loved ones via Zoom twice weekly and it is some consolation seeing their faces. How we miss the hugs!
We are a very global family, so we don’t have a lot of traditional Egyptian food at the table during iftar. We focus on healthy, light meals to end our fast – dates, then soup, salad and grilled chicken is a favourite. Later in the evenings we always have basboosa or kounafa. The kids love dumplings.
At suhoor, we enjoy having yogurt and water to prepare us for the fasting day. At family gatherings I am the official salad maker; everyone loves my salad raspberry vinaigrette dressing.
My kids love cheese and mince basboosa as a special treat – Noor helps me fold it. Karim prepares the mince mix.
How are we planning to celebrate Eid? That will depend a lot on government regulations, but we are hoping that we can all get together this coming Eid. Sitting together after the Eid prayers, sharing Eid cookies will be amazing, especially after missing it last year. A few days before Ramadan ends, ladies in our group come together to make the kahk (a small circular biscuit). It’s hard work doing it while fasting, but a family tradition that I adopted from my husband’s family.
Paying it forward comes in many shapes and sizes. In the spirit of Ramadan, during lockdown last year I started my own business with a desire to positively impact my community, the lives of people, and the environment. This developed into my brand Preloved Nation (prelovednation.com), which is a virtual marketplace for selling or gifting. It encourages people to be part of our change initiative towards a more sustainable kind way of living.
Syed Taha Zia, Pakistani lecturer
I was born in the UAE in 1991 and have been here since then. I observed my first fast when I was nine years old. My maternal grandmother was staying with us at the time. I remember receiving a lot of gifts from the elders at home for having observed the fast.
Only once have I spent Ramadan in Pakistan. I was 21 years old and one of the fond memories I have is of stepping out to play midnight cricket with friends and neighbours on the streets near our house. Midnight cricket is extremely popular with Pakistani youth even now.
Here in the UAE, I am blessed to be living with my parents, my family and my two brothers. It gives my two sons a great opportunity to learn so much from their elders. My parents teach them about building a relationship with Quran and prayers, how to help one another, be kind and generous, feel the hardships the poor go through, be thankful for all the blessings and to avoid any type of bad behaviour.
My sons Umar, 3, and Bilal, 1, are too young to be fasting, but my wife Ayesha is slowly inculcating the Ramadan spirit into them. She has made a prayer chart and deed chart to teach good manners. She rewards my elder son Umar with a star every time he learns something new and that makes him incredibly happy. She has also taught him a few duas (prayers). She also tells him stories from the Quran.
For iftar we start with dates and Rooh Afza followed with samosas, pakoras, dahi baray, cholay, fruit salad and different kinds of baked items. My mother and my wife enjoy preparing new dishes for iftar; they keenly follow Pakistani food channels on YouTube.
Last Ramadan, my dad Syed Hassan, had gone to Karachi. The trip was for about four months, but he could not travel back to Dubai in time for Ramadan due to the lockdown. It was the first time I spent Ramadan and Eid without him at home, and this made me realise the importance of having my parents around.
Ramadan during Covid has been different but I wouldn’t say it was difficult. It gave us more family time and an opportunity to pray together. As the mosques were closed, we prayed at home where I led the prayer and recited the Quran.
It was the Taraweeh prayers that we perform in the mosque that I missed the most. That and gathering with friends and family for iftar. Nonetheless, I think we all have learnt that life is very unpredictable, and we should not take anything for granted. What is important is to make good and productive use of our time, inculcate good values, and love and respect family members.
Gatherings in pre-Covid times were more fun as lunch and dinner gatherings were common throughout the three days of Eid. We would receive guests at home until 1am.
Last Eid, however, lacked the festive vibes as we couldn’t visit our family and friends. Nevertheless, we did have the traditional breakfast of poori served with kababs, halwa, qeema and the shahi khorma. We usually refer to Eid Al Fitr as Meethi (sweet) Eid in which we eat a lot of Sheer Khurma and other desserts.
Gifts during Eid is all about eidi. Nothing beats cash. Earlier we used to collect from all elders of our family or relatives whom we meet for Eid. Now I too have to give Eidi money to the young ones.
Razia Khatoon, Indian HR professional and life coach
I am basically from the City of Nawabs, Lucknow, in Uttar Pradesh, India. I stay in Abu Dhabi with my husband Aslam and my two daughters Zaina, 14, and Ayesha, 9. We arrived in the UAE just before Ramadan in September 2007.
My first Ramadan in the UAE was quite overwhelming as we were new to this place and did not have many acquaintances. My elder daughter was just nine months old and it was the first time in my life that I was shouldering the kitchen responsibilities all alone during Ramadan! I really missed having my extended family with me, especially my mother and mother-in-law and the exquisite family gatherings we used to have in India during suhoor and iftar.
After having spent more than a decade here, Ramadan has become a very spiritual journey for us. The special prayers, the Quran recitations in the wee hours of the morning, among other practices, set the mood for a holistic experience for the rest of the day.
My children have spent Ramadan back in India a couple of times. Salah and Quran recitation becomes even more special with grandparents as the children willingly hold their fingers and go to the mosque. My children gather in their grandparents’ rooms and are mesmerised by the rich collection of Islamic books, tasbih, musallah (prayer mats) etc. My father is well versed in Arabic calligraphy and my children love to learn the art from him. Besides, my father and my in-laws read Quran with tajweed and explain the surah meanings to children.
The elders patiently narrate Islamic stories to my children and the Hadees from Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Their storytelling and anecdotes fascinate my children and increase their knowledge of their religion. They encourage the children to follow the five pillars of Islam. They also encourage the children to feed the birds and stray animals. Of course, children learn values of patience, quality time, generosity, unconditional love, discipline, etc.
On our part, we try to set an example to our children by discussing the Ramadan dos and don’ts prior to the commencement of the holy month. The Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) are a part of our daily talks. My daughters accompany me to the mosque for the Taraweeh prayers. I also encourage them to pray during the last 10 nights of Laylatul Qadr.
When it comes to food, for iftar we have Roohafza, lemonade and mango lassi, chicken/lentil soup, pakode (onion/spinach fritters), pizza, sandwiches, kebabs, among others, and plenty of fruits. A sip of holy Zam Zam water is also a must.
Before Covid, we used to attend the night prayers at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Eid before the pandemic was an occasion marked by festivities and happy gatherings. We would go shopping for clothes and gift items. We would also plan gatherings in a common friend’s place on the day of Eid wherein we would have pot luck Eid party.
I had volunteered for an interesting Ramadan Charity initiative for two consecutive years in my company. As a team, we prepared food cartons with all necessary Ramadan items such as rice, oil, sugar, dates, olives, juice, etc. for needy families. In spite of fasting and working for two to three hours after office hours for this, I was extremely happy and experienced a certain sense of gratitude and contentment. The month of Ramadan has such positive vibes.
The pandemic has changed our mindset by cocooning us in our homes engulfed with a strange fear. But these tough times have taught me to be supremely grateful for everything. I am blessed in my life, specially prioritising my family and our health. Besides, I have learnt to follow a minimalist, simple lifestyle and focus more on "happiness" and "making positive memories".
Wahid Zaman, Bangladesh-British doctor
Growing up in Bangladesh, I remember we always used to have holidays during Ramadan. Everyone around was totally engrossed in fasting and prayers. I remember meeting with families for iftars and visiting markets, which used to sell special delicacies every evening.
My wife Nafeesa is from Goa (India) and we met in England where we both were studying before moving to the UAE in 2005.
Our first Ramadan in the UAE was such a beautiful experience. You could see people wishing each other, supermarkets and malls flooded with Ramadan offers, everyone shopping, neighbours sharing iftar items... We would exchange food with our neighbours. We had Arabic and Pakistani neighbours and we would get to taste their delicacies and traditional foods. At home we used to prepare dishes which are a mix of Indian and Bengali culinary styles.
The lesser working hours during Ramadan meant we could dedicate those hours towards prayers and recitation of the Quran.
We have celebrated Eid in England as well as Bangladesh. Though in England it is a very low-key affair, in Bangladesh the feeling is different. Throughout the day you see family and close friends visiting to wish Eid. It’s a busy day with cooking to serving seviyan to the guests.
My elder daughter Keesa is 10 and the younger one, Kashfiya, is 6. We speak to them about the importance of every aspect of our faith. Keesa fasts on the weekends. We read books and stories that inculcate good values in children. Whenever she is visiting, my mother regales the children with Islamic stories during bedtime.
The children wait eagerly for Ramadan and Eid because they love decorating the house and getting loads of gifts. Their uncles in the UK send them eidi.
Before Covid, Eid used to be a very lavish celebration. We would decorate our house, wear new clothes and have a get-together at home with friends and extended family. Our friends, despite being non-Muslim, would come dressed in traditional clothes. They would bring gifts and we would spend the whole evening playing games and singing.
This year, however, respecting the Covid protocols in place, we will do the usual decorations but avoid gatherings. We plan on going for a staycation.
Noor Hafizah, Malaysian homemaker
I live in Dubai with my husband and three sons and the first time I spent Ramadan in the UAE was in 2013. I was amazed with the culture here and the way the people here were observing Ramadan. However, although I was overwhelmed by the celebration during Eid and the sense of love and camaraderie that existed between people, I was sad as it was the first Ramadan away from my parents in Kuala Lumpur.
Ramadan in KL is a very traditional affair. There will be big family gatherings at suhoor and iftar and prayers are all performed together. The grandparents on both sides take the kids to the mosque, and the whole family recites Quran. During weekends the kids would be taken to the orphanage to give presents to kids there.
Another tradition among adults during Eid is to wish all members of the family and ask for their forgiveness for wrongdoing (if any). We also celebrate that we have won observing the whole month of abstinence. For kids, though, it is just about getting their money.
Two weeks before Eid, we will hang traditional lantern around the house, and kids burst firecrackers.
A popular dish we often prepare during Ramadan is "Bubur Lambuk" and that is made in pretty much every Muslim home during this time. It is a rice porridge with beef, chicken, mushroom and coconut milk. I cook it occasionally as I can easily get the ingredients here.
I distinctly remember one suhoor, when I woke up the family and was about to serve them rice when I realised I hadn’t pressed the "cook" button on the rice cooker. Amidst the panic, we ate whatever we could cook up in the limited time and went on to observe our fast. That is the real spirit of Ramadan; adjustment and tolerance.
Before the pandemic, we always celebrated Eid in Malaysia. The kids would start the countdown to this trip from the time Ramadan would begin. Last year was the first Eid we celebrated in Dubai. I tried to make it special for them with all the traditional food, new clothes and gifts.
To be away from family during the holy month is quite sad, but we still have friends to celebrate together, so let us count our blessings and wish for all families to be reunited again.
How to observe Ramadan holistically
The holy month offers the perfect opportunity to remember that our well-being resides in nurturing wisely our body, our mind and our soul, while exemplifying the values of love, patience, care, integrity and excellence to our children. This year, the preventive measures to protect ourselves and our community from the pandemic are hence aligned with and inherent to the spirit of Ramadan.
Leila Atbi, NLP life coach, quantum hypnotist and author, shares three ways to create a blissful month with your loved ones, this year.
• Body: Save time from preparing elaborated dishes and desserts. Instead, make simple nutritious meals of vegetables and lean meats, just enough to sustain the body. Maximise the fluid and fruit intake and avoid sweets as they cause fatigue and brain fog.
• Mind: Fasting gives the opportunity to our digestive system to rest and regenerate itself fully, which also enables our mind to save a lot of energy, and reach a great level of clarity. Make good use of the time and energy saved to unleash your creativity, while involving the young minds into inspirational activities.
• Soul: Connect with your soul through religious practices, sit in meditative silence, contemplate God’s creation and bond with your loved ones, over meaningful conversations.
For more details, visit www.leilaatbi.com.