Fasting expats find cultural connection

Some non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi have taken to fasting alongside their observant co-workers and friends to learn more about Ramadan.

ABU DHABI // Trina Aimee Sargent prepares fattoush and maqloobeh - a Palestinian dish made from aubergine, lamb and rice - to break her fast during Ramadan.

Ms Sargent, who was raised in a Christian household, moved to the Emirates four years ago from her home in New South Wales, Australia, and is fasting for the first time.

"I started on the first day of Ramadan, I have a great appreciation for the Muslim life, so I wanted to see what fasting was all about. I fast only for 12 hours in the day because of a health condition, but I still feel a part of it," she said.

Ms Sargent, 30, found it hard to cope the first day, but has made it through the month thanks to her support network.

"It is an interesting sensation. The first day was, I think, the hardest because I was just so very thirsty. After learning some more rules from co-fasting colleagues, I realised where I went wrong and fixed it going forward," she said.

"Dare I say, it almost feels spiritual. I feel connected to something bigger. I feel a great feeling when preparing iftar as well because it feels like there is a purpose and appreciation for the food."

Ms Sargent's participation in Ramadan reflects well on the capital, said Walead Mosaad, the cultural education project manager at the Tabah Foundation, a privately funded research institution.

"I think it's a positive thing," he said. "It's always a good sign when people feel they can be involved somewhat in other religions' devotions and rituals."

Carlos Hernandez, a landscape architect from Mexico, made his decision to fast more to discover how the human body relies on food. This is the second year he has fasted during Ramadan.

"It's a personal preference. It's just to experiment, and to see the whole process of avoiding food and how your body responds to that.

"I want to really feel and try to understand a bit more what are the implications on your daily life of doing such a thing."

For other non-Muslims in the city, simply cutting down on some foods and bad habits has had a similar effect.

"I gave up Coke Light last year," said Brynnen Callahan, 28, an interior designer from Indiana. This year she has tried to eat less during the day.

Taking part in Ramadan feels like the right thing to do, she said.

"Giving something up during Ramadan helps me to feel more connected to the local culture. Whenever I have a weak moment, it reminds me that I'm only giving one thing up while most of the people I see around me every day are sacrificing much more."

Her actions have encouraged several other non-Muslims in her office to make Ramadan sacrifices, she added.

Non-Muslims who fast generally find the experience positive, said Mr Mosaad.

"When we tell them we have to fast from sunset to dawn, for 30 days in a row, it sounds very daunting, like the most impossible thing, and they're sort of amazed that Muslims are able to do that. But they are pleasantly surprised when they try to do it themselves, and that it was something that was not easy, but, at the same time, not impossible," he said.

For Ms Sargent, and others like her, the reason she fasts is simple.

"The biggest question I get from non-fasters is why. My answer is, 'Because I want to'."

zalhassani@thenational.ae

Published: August 26, 2011 04:00 AM

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