My Life: It's the time for giving

Why the holy month reminds Manar Al Hinai to contribute to society

It is that time of the year again, and no, I am not referring to the summer.

Supermarket aisles are stacked with cartons of Vimto, Tang and dates. Nightlife has a new meaning as shops and restaurants extend their working hours beyond midnight, while television and radio adverts serve as a constant reminder to aid those in need.

Ramadan is the most anticipated month for Muslims around the world, and it is my favourite. It is a time of forgiveness, strengthening family ties and, most importantly, giving back to society.

Over the years, Ramadan has been my mentor and life coach. Through my daylight fasting days, I have learnt to be patient by being reminded of those who are unfortunate and have to go without food or drink for exhausting hours year-round, not just during Ramadan.

As much as I whined about not being able to wait one more hour without any meals, I also came to realise that these long hours are great for my health. It is now scientifically proved that fasting aids the digestive system and gives it a break.

And as I grew to become an independent adult and accumulated my own wealth, I am now obligated by my religion every year to aid my society's poor in the Islamic practice known as zakat.

Zakat - one of Islam's five pillars - requires Muslims to donate a small fortune to those in need. This act is usually undertaken during Ramadan, as any good deed counts 10 times its worth in this holy month.

Calculated as 2.5 per cent of wealth, including cash, stocks, gold and real estate value, this small percentage of my fortune given to those who need it has embedded a greater sense of social responsibility within me. Ramadan has taught me that as much as I enjoy spending the wealth God has granted me, I should also share this joy with less fortunate members of society - a small act that unleashes great societal balance if performed by all.

To illustrate, there was a time during the reign of Omar bin Abdulaziz of the Islamic kingdom when all Muslims fulfilled their Islamic zakat duties until there was a surplus of money with no one in need of it. By giving a small amount of money, society had healed itself and eliminated poverty and the poor class.

In addition to my annual zakat, I have also learnt that helping those in need can involve more than money.

Inspired by my kindhearted mother, who follows the Prophet Mohammed's examples, I learnt to not break my fast before making sure that those living nearby had something to satisfy their hunger.

We are more than lucky to live adjacent to a mosque. Not only am I blessed to hear the peaceful calls of prayer five times a day, but also my hunt for good deeds is made easier. With more than 100 expatriate men breaking their fast in our neighboring mosque, it has given me a great opportunity to contribute to their happy meal.

Though the mosque clerics and staff provide more than enough food and drink every day during Ramadan, we still feel the desire to participate in spreading the joy. Whether it is by giving out fruit or cartons of juices, the feeling of giving back is rewarding.

As I write on a plane heading to England, I realise that this year will mark my first long Ramadan - the longest, in fact, in 26 years. I am excited and looking forward to a life-coaching class with my mentor Ramadan, armed with plenty of hopes and plans to give back more than any previous year.


Manar Al Hinai, an Emirati, is a fashion designer and writer based in Abu Dhabi. She was recently named an Arab Woman of the Year.

Published: August 3, 2011 04:00 AM


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