This weekend, Muslims around the world welcomed Ramadan, with the holy month commencing in the UAE on Saturday. As the first sunset fell, cannons were fired to mark the end of the first day of fasting.
Even more striking than the roar of artillery was the nature of the audiences that surrounded the guns. In Abu Dhabi, outside the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Cody Combs, a social media journalist for The National, delivered a piece to camera without a mask, now possible after the UAE lifted the mandate on outdoor face coverings in February. In Dubai, shoppers by Burj Khalifa thronged the ceremony in greater numbers than would have been found in the past two years. With Covid-19 travel restrictions now lifted in many countries, the attendees would have been more international than before, too.
All are signs that, at least in terms of social and familial gatherings, this Ramadan is going to mark a much-needed return to normality. Speaking to The National, last-minute shoppers in Dubai were stressing how important this is. Hasnaa Nofal, a pharmacist from Egypt, said: “Ramadan is truly a special time because it brings all of the family together. You make sure you spend that time together that you might not otherwise have throughout the year."
As travel returns to normal, Makkah and Medinah will be welcoming worshippers to the Holy Mosques, particularly to the Kaaba for Umrah.
Even modern technology is shaping the holy month, making it easier to observe and celebrate globally. The Islamic Crescents Observation Project at Abu Dhabi's International Astronomical Centre now publishes a map showing the regions where a crescent moon can be seen by the naked eye alone, as well as with a telescope, information that determines when the season begins.
But while progress adorns much of Ramadan 2022, there are also worrying trends emerging. Last year, food prices were rising at unhealthy rates, making iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast, dangerously expensive for the region's poorer residents. Now, in large part due to the Ukraine conflict and the Middle East's over-reliance on food imports, costs are even higher.
Families might feel safer coming together this year, but all is still not well if the shared meals they were so looking forward to are limited by economic hardship. Many will be forced to rely on charity. An important one is the UAE's global One Billion Meals campaign that was announced to coincide with Ramadan. It will help people in 50 countries, many of which are in the Middle East. It is desperately needed. In Lebanon, for example, more than 20 per cent of households are now food insecure, according to the UN's World Food Programme.
An important aspect of Ramadan is recognising the spiritual benefit of resilience and sacrifice. The tragedy of Covid-19 means these reflections will probably be more intense than usual, as will the relief of being with family and friends once again. But the world's problems are not ending as the pandemic appears to be easing, and, this year, prayers should be offered for an end to new global crises, too.