Filipino in Dubai: Waiting for the moon
Ramadan. I have been wandering at the heart of this tradition ever since I moved to Dubai 5 years ago. Like most things in the Middle East, it took me a while to get accustomed to it and get a good grasp of its intricacies.
Coming from the Philippines and being raised on Catholic dogma, liberal ideals and a steady stream of American pop culture, I have to admit that it was not easy for me to let go of certain prejudices that most Filipinos would have for Islam and Arabs in general, particularly after 9-11.
During my first Ramadan experience in August 2009, I remember thinking how extreme it all seemed to be. I mean sure, we had our Lenten season back home when people can choose to fast (and by fasting we mean you can still eat fish), yet it was never as rigid as not eating or drinking anything until sunset – for an entire month – under the punishing desert heat that would sometimes go up to 50 degrees.
In fact, I have never seen such rigorous observance of tradition and even more fascinating, how it is being observe in Dubai, amidst the state-of-the-art infrastructure and where 80% of the population are expats.
As a newly-arrived (clueless) expat, I got the message loud and clear – out here, the locals rule. It doesn’t matter where you are from, what religion you follow. White, black, Asian; Democrat, communist or Republican; high school graduate or a Master’s degree holder; a laborer or a manager – you are simply a guest in the UAE and as any guest you are expected to honor the host and abide by the house rules.
I also noticed this was not a big issue for most of my kababayans, grateful for work and masters at the art of hospitality, as well as the greater Indian population who simply went about their business. In fact most of the complaints I heard were coming from Western tourists who felt that their basic human rights (to beer mostly) were being impinged upon.
As for me, I was more interested on the Eid holiday that was coming up, so I asked our HR manager when this so-called Eid would be as I wanted to make plans. Lo and behold, she told me it was up to the moon.
So there I was sitting in a modern office in 2009 facing my high-speed computer, being told to wait for the moon. It was refreshingly surreal, like being in a sci-fi novel. Also, I soon learned that there was a Moon-sighting committee overseeing the whole thing and the announcement will be made shortly. As a fan of sci-fi and ironies, this was the turning point. Ramadan, you had me moon-sighting.
Fast forward to 2011, the Arab Spring was in full swing. Uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and the Syrian civil war erupted. I was again confronted with thoughts about Ramadan.
After two years living and working in the UAE, I have met with all sorts of Arabs – Syrian, Egyptian, Lebanese, Jordanians, Palestinians, Emiratis, name it. I found them all to be generally nice. We had more in common than we had differences. Despite the commonalities, they seemed to disagree on a lot.
It was at this point that I became quite disillusioned about Ramadan and perhaps all other forms of religious practice. The tale of Babylon suddenly became very real to me at that time. People punished to speak in alien tongues barely understanding each other and as a result criticizing what they didn’t understand.
They say that people are kinder, more peaceful, more forgiving, more generous around here at this time of the year but sadly the bloodshed continue, the prejudice continue, the ignorance continue and the selfish desires continue. The truth is it wasn’t just in the Arab world.
I kept thinking what good is prayer if one doesn’t know compassion or humanity? What is the use of fasting, if we cannot give even just a little to those who are dying of hunger; not just physical but emotional and spiritual? Why is it so hard to accept and appreciate each other? Ramadan has brought me face to face with more questions and less answers.
Now well into my fifth year in the UAE, you can say I have grown accustomed to the tradition, and that I have learned to embrace the silence that Ramadan has enforced upon us. Most expats in the UAE choose to leave during this time of the year and rightly so. Businesses are slow, nothing is open until after sunset, the bars are dry, the heat is unbearable, there are no activities and there is simply is nothing to do outside. It is the most ideal time to go elsewhere.
I, on the other hand, have learned to appreciate the quietness of Ramadan. After 5 years of living and working in Dubai, I can say that I have finally found my own comfy spot in this old radical tradition.
The 30 days of quiet reflection was a welcome break from all the “matters-of-consequence” that we are all so busy going about. Happening at mid-year, it was a good time to reassess, or to do an inventory of your life. It was the best time to revel in the silence, to ask questions and to seek answers. It was a good time to be grateful.
And finally, it was a chance to stop and stare at the moon again, and humbly recognize your place in the Universe. – Rappler.com
Kristine Abante in a Filipino national currently based in the UAE. An analog girl in a digital world, she has spent most of her career promoting what she loves the most – music. A struggling writer in the guise of a mostly-corporate day job, she believes in 7 impossible things before breakfast and in silly things like peace, love and understanding.
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