Dubai A Hindu family in Abu Dhabi has been fasting this Ramadan. And not for the first time. They have been doing it for 14 years.
“We cannot imagine a Ramadan without fasting. It is like an inner call,” said Indian expat Vakkam Jayalal, 54, who along with his wife Yamuna, 43, and two grown-up children observe fast throughout Ramadan.
A UAE resident for 32 years, Jayalal, hails from Kerala and works as a coordinator at a civil consultant firm. He said he started fasting 21 years ago when he lived with a Muslim family in Abu Dhabi.
“I was the only non-Muslim in the house. So I decided to fast as well. It was a great experience. It has been over two decades since then, and not a Ramadan has passed when I have not observed fasting,” said the active community worker and art enthusiast.
When Jayalal’s wife joined him 16 years ago, Ramadan fasting became a family affair. “Inspired by my husband, I also started fasting. It was tough in the beginning, but eventually it turned out to be great learning experience,” said Yamuna, a housewife.
The couple’s two children, Aishwarya, 17, and Rahul, 21, have been fasting since they were eight and 10.
“I never forced them to fast. They started it on their own as they were fascinated by its concept. It has been several years, but they have never missed a fast. Whether they are in the UAE or abroad, they always observe Ramadan as a month of fasting.”
Aishwarya, who is in Grade 12 in Kerala, says she is the only non-Muslim girl in her school who observes a fast. Her brother Rahul, who has just graduated from a private college in Abu Dhabi, is also fasting.
The devotion and spiritual strength of the family has inspired even Jayalal’s 82-year-old mother who is visiting the UAE. She successfully fasted for two days, but was discouraged from fasting for the entire month for health reasons.
The family says they benefit both physically and mentally. “It is a great way of self-discipline. Fasting helps us shed extra weight and also discipline the mind,” said Jayalal.
The Jayalal family are not alone. There are many non-Muslims in the UAE who take on the month-long exercise in spiritual cleansing and devotion every year. While some are inspired by the concept, other observe the Ramadan fast to express solidarity with their Muslim brethren.
Rajendran Parameshwaran, 48, another Indian expatriate in Abu Dhabi, says it is the 14th year he is fasting during Ramadan.
“This one month is the time to cleanse our mind and body by exercising self-restraint. It also helps you understand the value of food and reflect on the plight of the poor who don’t get even one meal a day,” he said.
Parameshwaran, who works for an estimation company, started fasting in solidarity with his Muslim roommates.
“There were 12 of us and I was the only non-Muslim. When it was Ramadan I also woke up with them, ate food and observed fasting. I did not want to eat when my friends were fasting,” said Parameshwaran, who is married with two children.
Though he and others moved out, he continued with the tradition. “My blood pressure comes to normal when I am fasting. It is also invigorating for the mind and body provided you do not overeat after when you end the fast,” he said.
Parameshwaran’s Ramadan fasting elicits curiosity and admiration from his friends and colleagues.
“Now they all know that I fast during Ramadan. My family in India ask me two days before Ramadan whether I am fasting. The answer is an obvious Yes!”
Many other non-Muslims inspired by their friends’ commitment and devotion also observe the fast for a day or days to show respect for the religion.
“I see even young children and elderly people observe fast in this hot weather. If they can abstain from eating or drinking for 15 hours, why can’t I?” said Emilie Rodrigus, a Filipino secretary in Abu Dhabi.
“I fast a day or two every year during Ramadan just to show my respect to people who are fasting.”