Your guide to Ramadan 2012

Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding talks through the do's and don't's of the Islamic holy month
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What is Ramadan?

\nRamadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and a period in which every healthy Muslim is required to fast from dawn until dusk. While fasting, individuals must abstain from eating, drinking, inhaling substances, intimacy with a spouse and taking nutritionally-related medicine and any non-essential oral medicine. In addition, those fasting should also refrain from undesirable behaviour such as fighting, swearing, arguing and lying, among other sins. \n

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When does the fasting finish?

\nThe call to prayer at dusk marks the end of the fasting day. Muslims can break their fast with dates and water, attend to prayer and then join family and friends for iftar (breakfast). \n

\n“Fasting is a system of discipline, improvement, and enhancement of one’s being. It increases levels of patience, tolerance, and perseverance…To fast [it] correctly, everybody is required to be better than their usual self,” says Nasif Kayed, general manager of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.

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Do you have to take part if you are a non-Muslim?

\nNon-Muslims do not have to fast during the holy month but if they live in a Muslim community and want to fast, they can participate. Nonetheless, they should understand and respect the holy period and refrain from eating, drinking and smoking in public places.

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How does Ramadan differ around the world?

\nRamadan is exactly the same wherever you live, explains Kayed.

“Take Dubai as an example. [It has] 230 nationalities - if there is a Muslim from each one of these countries, they will all fast the month exactly the same way. The system is identical; there is no difference, what applies to one, applies to two billion."

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What does Ramadan mean in terms of work?\n

\nWorking hours in the UAE during Ramadan are cut by two hours for all employees in the public and private sector regardless of whether they are Muslim or not, according to a directive from the Ministry of Labour. Employers are required to reduce working hours to 36 per week. \n

\n“The [working hours] are good because they give [individuals] time to prepare for iftar. From a spiritual principle, you have to focus on doing good in this month. Life is not all about work. There are family, friends and poor people that need help so prepare a meal a little bit earlier, go visit somebody you haven’t before,” advises Kayed. (AFP/Getty Images)

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Should non-Muslims have reduced working hours?

\nNon-Muslims should also take advantage of reduced working hours so they feel part of the community, says Kayed. \n

\n“You are one of us, regardless of whether you are fasting or not. Non-Muslims] can bake a cake to take to a friend who has invited them for iftar. Everybody gets together at the break of fast.”\n(AFP/Getty Images)

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What happens if you are caught eating during fasting hours?

\nThe action depends on the individual’s attitude, says Kayed. “In Dubai, we try not to define a law; it depends on the situation and the level of disrespect to the community law….Are we tolerant? Yes. It’s your attitude that might make us take action in a severe manner.” \n (AFP/Getty Images)

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What are common mistakes people make in Ramadan?

\nSome individuals often misunderstand the purpose of the holy month. Common mistakes include; thinking you don’t have to work, it’s okay to lose your temper because you are hungry, shop for too much food, eat too much and stay up all night and sleep during the day. \n

\n“It is 29 to 30 days, 14 to 15 hours a day, [of making yourself] a better human being, not to harm anybody else, not to harm the environment or animals. It is to be the best you can be,” says Kayed.

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If you are a business owner, what can you do to limit the impact of Ramadan on the company?

\n “If I was an employer, I would make sure my employees have the exact hours that they are comfortable with. I would clarify tasks that have to be finished; there has to be deadlines regardless of whether or not it is Ramadan,” says Kayed. \n

\n“If you have a problem with somebody who cannot fulfil their tasks during daytime, then make them work at night. I would call the individual on it and say: ‘after ‘iftar today, I need 30 minutes from you to finish something for me’.” \n(AFP/Getty Images)

\n(Reporting by Sara Anabtawi)

Sun 22 Jul 2012 08:49 AM GST