As is custom, on Wednesday evening, which marked the 29th day of Ramadan, teams of men were despatched throughout the Muslim world to try to catch a glimpse of the new crescent moon, which dictates the end of the Muslim holy month and the start of the feast of Eid al Fitr.
Unfortunately, the moon was a no-show as far as the watchers could see and the official ruling from the UAE’s Shawwal Crescent Moon Committee came down: Ramadan continues one more day.
During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating, smoking and other sensory activities during daylight hours. The abstinence is meant to focus Muslims’ thoughts and prayers on those less fortunate and to spur charitable action. Since Ramadan occurs according to the lunar calendar, it moves up about 10 days each year. This year, and for the next half-dozen or so, the fasting will take place during the heat of the Gulf summer, which adds to the degree of difficulty.
Even if you aren’t fasting, Ramadan rearranges the way we all live.
For many, workdays are shorter – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., if that. Workers who toil outside were given dispensation and told they could make up the days later if they felt they couldn’t work in the heat without sustenance. Many restaurants are closed during the day, though some kitchens will stay open for takeout orders. Most of the time, you’ll be greeted with signs like these:
At the start of Ramadan, the police issue bulletins warning drivers to avoid the roads at sundown. That in a country that is already home to the world’s most dangerous highway. Not surprising that people who haven’t eaten or drank anything all day might be a bit cranky and in a rush to get home! (A friend, KB, says she just refuses to drive until the sun has well set.)
After dark, however, the city wakes up. In Dubai, the hotels put up large tents to host lavish iftar buffets usually sponsored by companies, such as this one I went to at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel:
In the Gulf, especially, there is some handwringing that Ramadan is getting over-commercialized. There is certainly no shortage of Ramadan specials and the long weekend for Eid is an important time for hotels and travel companies. Still, it is kind of fun to see even Mickey D’s get into the spirit: