Illustration by Zharmakhan Nurkhanuly

Celebrating Ramadan: Warmth, Spirituality, Forgiveness and Self Development

As Ramadan approaches, NYUAD students reflect on the varied meanings, traditions and practices that make this month so meaningful and unique to them.

When Mohammed thinks of Ramadan, he remembers reading one of the 30 parts of the Quran every day in order to make sure he completes the Quran before the end of Ramadan. He remembers going daily to the Masjid (Mosque) to pray Taraweeh and Tahajjud, which are evening and late night prayers that are offered congregationally during Ramadan in pre-Covid-19 times. He remembers the routine of waking up, praying, reading the Quran and watching Islamic Ramadan shows, from those that teach you Islamic morals and behaviors to those that beautifully tell the stories of the Quran. He also remembers listening to the Quran on the radio and TV channels right before sunset while eagerly waiting to hear the call for prayer to break his fast. Throughout all of these routines, he focused most of all on cultivating spiritual growth and a meaningful connection to his religion and to Allah.
Ghaya Al Shamsi, Class of 2023, shared the spiritual value Ramadan holds for her. “Ramadan is so precious to my heart. It is the time of the year where I go on a life detox and purify my soul for the next year. There is constant reflection on deen (religion) that sometimes we get distracted from because of dunya (worldly life),” explained Al Shamsi. “And what is fascinating is that I keep learning new lessons and understanding stories from the Quran more deeply even if I have read it [them] many times before.”
Inside Ramadan
In Islam, Ramadan, the ninth lunar month of the Islamic, or Hijri, calendar, is the holiest month of the year. It is when the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and Muslims observe fasting — abstinence from all food and drink from dusk to dawn.
“When I was young, we were taught that one of the main reasons we fast is to empathize with the poor and hungry,” reflected Reem Hazim, Class of 2023. “However, as I grew older, I realized that fasting in Ramadan also has a more spiritual reason. It is a show of our faith, of our willingness to sacrifice something we love to obey our God.”
“We fast to control our desires and to build patience. Also, it is important that we feel for the poor and not take anything we have for granted,” highlighted Zyad Yasser, Class of 2023.
People typically choose to stay awake until Suhoor, the late night meal before fasting starts, roughly at around 3:30 a.m., or nap for a couple of hours before getting up to eat. Like others around the world, Laila’s sleep schedule often becomes one of her last priorities, but it is worth it. During Adhan al Fajr, which is the call to the dawn prayer, the person who calls for prayer from the mosque says: “al-salaatu khayrun min al-nawm”, which translates to “prayer is better than sleep”. This urges Muslims to resist sleep and wake up, highlighting the importance of prayer to foster their connection to their religion.
Iftar is the evening meal for Muslims to break their fast at the call to Maghreb prayer, or Adhan al Maghreb. In the UAE, cannons are fired with a single shot to announce Iftar time and are broadcasted on local television channels.
In addition to fasting, Muslims develop spiritually by furthering their engagement in acts of worship — like reading the Quran and praying — in order to improve their relationship with Allah and get multiplied rewards for their good deeds.
On top of its religious and spiritual significance, Ramadan is a unique time for families to feel closer to each other and for people to hold more love and patience in their hearts.
Youmna Mohammed, Class of 2023, highlighted the significance of Ramadan with respect to her sense of home. Regardless of whether she is at home in Sudan or with her family in Abu Dhabi, she shared: “The food is different, the environment is different, guests come more often and [the atmosphere] feels more like Sudan than it ever does during all the other months.”
The month does not come without its difficulties, though. One of these is the challenge of fasting from dawn to dusk; in Abu Dhabi this year, the fast will last for about 14 hours. Another difficulty is that Covid-19 drastically limits congregational prayers that often lifted the spirits of countless Muslims.
Spotlighting Food and Kinships
In Ramadan, Laila always helps her mom in the kitchen, especially when there is more preparation needed for hosting Iftar at the house. Sometimes, her uncles and their families would come over from Sharjah; other times, her family would visit them. Unfortunately, large gatherings are no longer as prevalent in Ramadan due to Covid-19. Nevertheless, Laila still feels very blessed and grateful to have Iftar with close family and friends with safety regulations.
There are also traditions shared by Muslims around the world that move beyond religion — some foods are unique to Ramadan and not commonly consumed throughout the rest of the year. For example, starting the Iftar with dates, different kinds of soup, like lentil, harira and mushroom and a selection of starters, especially meat and cheese samosas, is a common practice among a variety of cultures.
People then may treat themselves to a main dish, which differs by culture, such as mansaf for Jordanians, thareed for Emiratis and various tajines for Moroccans. In some cultures, there are also traditional juices, like the ones made from tamarind or apricots. Then, later at night, people indulge in special Ramadan sweets, namely qatayef, a type of sweet dumpling filled with cream, cheese or walnuts, or a sweetened, nutty dessert, vermicelli sweet pudding and others.
Coming from a Palestinian background, kunafah is also a must for Laila’s family. From a piece of fruit or two to leftovers from Iftar, what people eat at Suhoor greatly varies from one person to another.
Photo Courtesy of Mohammed Muqbel.
For example, Salim El Hadiri, Class of 2024, highlighted Moroccan traditions, including batbout m’ammar, a bread with meat or vegetables and Moroccan tea, which is a necessity for both Suhoor and Iftar.
Despite the different cultural traditions, Ramadan is a month of warmth, spirituality, peace, forgiveness, purification and self development. We are looking forward to Ramadan on campus this year. Regardless of whether or not you will be fasting, be sure to check out the cannons firing on TVs and the crescent and star shaped Ramadan decorations and be respectful towards Muslim traditions and spirituality.
Photo Courtesy of Mohammed Muqbel.
Dates are an essential food item in each household, while lanterns and crescent shaped decorations are integral to Ramadan themed decor.
Ramadan Kareem — may you have a happy and rewarding Ramadan.
This article was originally published in Issue 202. It was republished in Issue 245.
Mohamed Muqbel and Laila Al-Eisawi are contributing writers. Email them at
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