The holy month of Ramadan begins today. With the sighting of the moon, we have entered the most important time of the year for Muslims. For thirty days they will fast - even going without water - from about 4:30 a.m. until sunset (around 6:30 p.m. here) every day.
Every Muslim, from the age of puberty on, is expected to participate. The elderly, the ill, and nursing or pregnant women are not expected to fast, though if they recover from a temporary condition they are expected to make up the days and fast at a later time.
There is an energy in the air in Abu Dhabi surrounding Ramadan. The grocery stores are teeming with shoppers stocking up for the nightly Iftar (breaking of the fast). Newspaper ads announce special savings at many stores in honor of Ramadan.
Prominent Sheikhs and Sheikhas have given millions of dirhams to settle the debts of imprisoned UAE nationals and expatriates, so the latter may be released from their debts and return home for Ramadan.
Several children in my fourth-grader's class announced that they are fasting, some for the first time.
Even non-Muslims here seem inspired. While we were discussing the fast, my 17-year-old said we ought to do more for Lent next spring.
The newspaper has run articles about the true meaning of Ramadan. The real purpose of Ramadan, they say, is not the fantastic meals and get togethers shared after sundown. Rather, Ramadan is an opportunity to get closer to God through prayer, fasting and good works, and to remember how the poor live every day of their lives.
It is against the law for any person to eat or drink in public during Ramadan.
The government is warning people to take care with the Ramadan tents they set up outside their houses, reminding people to keep generators and lamps away from the sides of tents to avoid fires. Another caveat is to be extra careful driving in Abu Dhabi just before sunset, when those who've fasted all day are in a hurry to get home for the Iftar.
The photo above, of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, was taken by M.