As a Pakistani American student who is close to her family, the 2022 Ramadan experience was particularly special to me because it was the first time that I had to celebrate Ramadan away from my family. Despite the fact that I was not with family, celebrating Ramadan in a Muslim-majority country for the very first time while studying abroad at the American University in Dubai (AUD), was one of my best! I felt fortunate that I had the opportunity to experience Ramadan at AUD.
When celebrating Ramadan in the U.S. with my family, my mom would be the first one up to make Sehri and slowly everyone else would start waking up. Throughout the day, we would watch cooking competition shows as we grew hungrier. When it was time to break our fast, my mom and dad would be in the kitchen cooking a variety of delicious dishes to celebrate. As food was being prepared, I would help set up the table for us to enjoy the meal. Our cat,Mr. Bean, would carelessly witness our preparation for breaking the fast. We then all sit around the table full of mouth-watering food to make Dua (prayer of invocation or supplication) and wait for the azan (the call to prayer). When the call to prayer is announced, we would pray and thank Allah for the blessing and sustenance he has provided us. We eat then pray Maghreb (sunset prayer) and we would come back to finish our meal once we the Maghreb prayer is done.
At AUD, there is a strong sense of community among the students and faculty who are fasting during the holy month. People who are not fasting also demonstrate awareness and respect by avoiding drinking and eating in public. In the dorms, students would gather in the kitchen to prepare food to break their fast together. We could hear the Iftar canon go off in the distance indicating that it was time to break our fast. AUD hosted an incredible Iftar to break the fast for its students and faculty with delicious local snacks, biryani and Arabian dishes to bring the community together. Everyone on campus was welcome to the Iftar celebration regardless religion, ethnicity or nationality. The campus was beautifully decorated with Ramadan decorations and the air was filled with a joyful feeling. There was also an Oud player for the Iftar to bring the event to the next level with live music. The Oud is a traditional instrument of Islamic Civilization and an important part of the Middle East culture. For me, it was definitely one of the highlights of the event. After enjoying my meal in traditional Arabic seating, I was also able to have my hands painted by a Henna artist. What a great cultural experience! I hope you will also have the opportunity to experience Ramadan during your time at AUD.
You can easily see all kinds of Ramadan decorations around Dubai during the holy month. Many restaurants offer great deals and special discounts for Suhoor and Iftar in cerebration of Ramadan. One day, a friend and I went to the Mazah Restaurant in the Dubai Marina to break our fast. Mazah Restaurant specializes in Middle Eastern Cuisine. We took advantage of the Ramadan deal and tried many delicious dishes. The Dubai Marina and JBR area were lit up with decorations at nights. It was truly wonderful to see many people go out for Iftar with families to celebrate. Also interesting throughout the month of Ramadan in the U.A.E. is that a canon can be heard in the distance at Iftar time to mark the end of fasting for the day. In Dubai, the cannons are placed around the Dubai Mall, at the Atlantis on Palm Jumeirah, and at the Ain Dubai – the world's biggest and tallest Ferris wheel in JBR area. The cannons can be heard from the Palm, JBR Beach and even in our dorms on campus.
During Ramadan, some restaurants limit seating to indoors to respect those who are fasting. Takeout and delivery are encouraged during the daytime. In the evenings, people often gather at restaurants or parks to celebrate Iftar together. Most business and activities are still open during Ramadan and I was still able to visit many places and enjoy life in Dubai. For example, I visited to the top of the Burj Khalifa – the world's tallest building to enjoy the breath-taking 360 o view of the beautiful city landscape. To see the Dubai landmarks, such as Burj-al Arab, Dubai Frame, and the Palm Jumeriah in the distance gives you a different appreciation of the city. Another highlight during my time in Dubai was parasailing with my friend. I enjoyed Dubai in the air (literally) and flew around the Burj-al Arab with the Dubai skyline in the background. Another must-do in Dubai (if you dare)!
“Hajrah Jalil is also a guest blogger for Amideast Education Abroad Connect for the Spring 2022. This blog post can also be found at https://www.amideastedabroad.org/home/jalil-blog3.”