With the start of my third Ramadan in the UAE, I’m reflecting on what I have learnt from spending time with Emirati friends at this special month of the year.
My sense is that fasting provides an opportunity to move away from the daily routine to allow time for reflection on the lives they enjoy. The way Emirati friends explain it to me is that the intent of fasting is first and foremost for spirituality but then for all the other benefits that result such as self-restraint, strengthening of the family unit, sharing the feelings of the less fortunate, and health (so long as the iftars and suhurs don’t undo the good work!).
I have shared the celebration and emotions around the time of breaking fast and I can see how it strengthens ties with family and friends in a really special way.
This Ramadan, I’m delighted that my country – Great Britain – will be host to the greatest gathering of nations with the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It doesn’t often happen that the Games and Ramadan coincide and I believe this makes it an extra special occasion – for Londoners, for Muslims and for everyone visiting the UK over the next month. British Muslim and Emirati athletes will compete side by side – as will the over 3,000 Muslim Olympians taking part in the Games that start in just a few days time.
Whilst many will not be fasting for very understandable reasons I understand that they will find ways to match the significance of the most professional opportunity of their lives against the most significant spiritual time in their religious calendar – for example I have heard that Moe Shibi, the leading British Olympic rower will provide 1,800 meals for poor people in Morocco where his father was born. I was also touched to read about the inspiration Darren Cheesman from the Team GB Hockey has given to many young British Muslims aspiring for a life in professional sports. And it’s impressive to hear about the arrangements the International Olympic Committee are putting in place for those who are fasting – predawn meals and venues preparing first meals after sunset. Good examples of how Islam and competitive sports go hand in hand in the 21st century.
Those from the Emirates travelling to the UK over the next month will sample the welcome and warmth of British hospitality. They will also be able to share in the atmosphere of faith and celebration across all of the UK’s main cities with many iftars and family gatherings. I will be in the UK myself for some of the month and look forward to seeing as many Emirati friends there as possible – it’s nice to be able to return the hospitality that I receive in the UAE. While I aim to experience fasting at least once to train my will (!) I look forward to enjoying exciting evenings of sports from the Games – particularly the most important event of all – the football match between the UAE and UK on 29 July. Being a diplomat of course I will say ‘may the best team win’.
As a Londoner and having grown up on a very diverse society with many Muslim friends, I came to the UAE with a fair amount of knowledge about Islam. However, the time I have spent with Emirati friends has encouraged me to ask many more questions. Their openness and eagerness to share insights with me into Islamic culture has been very rewarding.
The virtues of patience and tolerance – central to the Muslim faith and enhanced further during the month of Ramadan are virtues that every human being should cultivate. These values were at the heart of the vision of the founders of the UAE and are carried forward today by the leadership today; that is why this Ramadan and throughout the year, over 100,000 Britons choose to call the Emirates their home.