Dubai Longer fasting hours and lack of a community spirit rank high among the reasons many Western expats have chosen to spend Ramadan in the UAE.
“In Canada, my fast would begin at around 3.20am and end at past 9pm. That gives me barely any time to sleep or eat, before I have to begin fasting all over again,” says Canadian Yvonne Whiste-Ahmad, who has joined her husband in Dubai for Ramadan.
In Canada, my fast would begin at around 3.20am and end at past 9pm. That gives me barely any time to sleep or eat, before I have to begin fasting all over again
“In Vancouver, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself,” says the 26-year-old convert to Islam. “All my friends would be out eating lunch and I’d be tempted all the time. At least here it becomes much easier to observe the fast.”
UK resident Nadia Tareq agrees. “In England, fasting isn’t that easy. Agreed that it’s hot in Dubai, but in England the weather is so unpredictable and can go from hot to cold to rainy in minutes, which is just as uncomfortable. Besides, the sun sets so late there that fasting for 17 or 18 hours is difficult.”
As is the case with many Muslims observing Ramadan in Europe, America and Canada, the long hours of the fast leave many confused as to whether the fast should follow the sunrise to sunset rule, or as in the case of nations in the far north like Finland, Sweden and Alaska, where a summer fast may last all day or follow the timings of the nearest Muslim country.
Media reports last month highlighted the plight of those fasting in Finland. According to calculations, in the next two to four years, Ramadan will fall during the summer solstice in late June when the sun doesn’t set at all. Belgian expat Sarah Sillis, who chose to end her summer break early so as to fly back to Dubai in time for Ramadan, believes it makes sense for those who live in Alaska and Finland “to follow the fasting hours of nearby Muslim countries such as Turkey or Morocco”.
The long hours of fasting, sparse availability of halal food and lack of a community spirit are the reasons the Belgian painter decided to spend Ramadan in Dubai. “The best part about Ramadan in Dubai is the sense of community here. The Islamic way of fasting is not an uncommon or unheard of concept, as it is in many small towns and villages in Europe. Moreover, we have special night prayers all over the UAE that even women can attend and mosques that have dedicated areas for them, which is hard to find in Europe. It is but natural that the feeling of Ramadan is more authentic here than it is back home.”
Sillis believes that the summer sun in Dubai is a minor issue in comparison to the benefits of spending Ramadan in the city.
“I barely feel the heat here. Everything’s air-conditioned and I hardly need to walk around in the sun during the fasting hours. The fast in Dubai is so much easier than the fast in Belgium. Having spent the first couple of days of Ramadan in Europe, I realised how much easier it is here. Shorter fasting hours is a big deal. In Belgium, I would begin fasting at around 3am and continue till 10pm. That’s around 19 hours! After iftar, I would go for my evening (Isha prayers) at 11.30pm, and then barely have the time left over for Taraweeh, the special Ramadan prayers, if I want to make the morning Fajr prayers at 3am! So where is the time to sleep or rest? It’s definitely a blessing to do my Ramadan here.”