Non-Muslims adopt spirit of Ramadan

Restrictions during the Holy Month cause little upheaval in majority of people's lives, according to National/YouGov survey.

03/09/2009 - Abu Dhabi, UAE - Muslims leave after Iftar at the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday September 2, 2009.  Meals are prepared for 15,000 people by the Armed Forces Officers Club and Hotel.  (Andrew Henderson / The National) *** Local Caption ***  ah_090902_Grand_Mosque_319.jpg
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Many non-Muslims enter into the spirit of Ramadan in the UAE, The National/YouGov survey shows. Of the 294 non-Muslim respondents that do not observe Ramadan, 78 per cent said they tried not to eat, drink or smoke in front of their fasting colleagues and friends, while 31 per cent said they tried to learn more about the Islamic community and its traditions.

Almost one in five (18 per cent) said they gave more to charity to share in the spirit of the month. Even though they were not fasting, 37 per cent said they liked to go for iftar at restaurants and hotels. Only 12 per cent said nothing changed for them during the month. Dr Yasin Ghadi, professor of Islamic studies at the UAE University in Al Ain, said the relationship between non-Muslims and Muslims was improving year on year, and Ramadan was the time for most positive cross-cultural conversations.

"The media still has a long way to come in terms of representing Muslims accurately but it has helped a great deal with communications and I think we are looking at a much improved religious society compared with 10 years ago. "Muslims are communicating a lot more with each other and improving their manners. This is because there is more information available about how they should act. "They can go on the internet, watch television, study media reports and talk to scholars. All of this can account for why people are practising more during this Ramadan. It can also help to explain why many non-Muslims are entering into the spirit of the Holy Month."

Muslims who were fasting, he said, "should use the opportunity to tell others about the physical and spiritual benefits, as well as maintaining good manners as an example". According to the survey, very few of the restrictions on daily life in the UAE during Ramadan seemed to inconvenience people. A very small proportion, for example, said they were bothered by the restrictions on smoking (2 per cent), eating (9 per cent) and drinking (8 per cent) in public, although these aspects of life during Ramadan did upset a higher proportion of non-Muslims (four per cent, 21 per cent and 18 per cent respectively).

However, while 57 per cent of the 161 Christians in the survey felt that it was unfair that non-Muslims in the UAE were not allowed to eat, drink or smoke in public during Ramadan, this was a feeling shared by more than a quarter (26 per cent) of the 567 Muslims surveyed. "I think it is unfair that non-Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink in public," said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a New York-based cleric who heads the Cordoba Initiative, a multinational project to improve relations between Muslim countries and the West.

"I encourage my non-Muslim friends, if they're eating and I'm fasting, to eat in front of me. According to Hadith, more blessings are bestowed upon me as long as I'm fasting when others around me are eating. I encourage my non-Muslim friends not to feel embarrassed." The majority of all those surveyed (73 per cent), no matter what religious beliefs they held, felt that, in general, non-Muslims living in the UAE respected Islamic values, although proportionately fewer Muslims (63 per cent) were convinced of this than Christians (85 per cent).

On the other hand, while 87 per cent of all those surveyed felt that Muslims living in the UAE respected the values of other religions, this dropped to 76 per cent of Christians, with almost a quarter (24 per cent) disagreeing with the proposition. Across all people interviewed, almost a third believed non-Muslims were influenced by Muslim habits and attitudes (31 per cent) and a similar proportion (33 per cent) disagreed. Another third (35 per cent) had no definite view.

"I believe the majority of people are rather respectful of other people when they are disciplining themselves," said Imam Feisal. "The majority of people I've spoken to in the West are very impressed that Muslims fast and pray. If anything, it makes them feel they need to do more of that in their own tradition. "My wife's colleague at work once told her: 'Your fasting makes me think what I do for Lent is a joke'.

"It acts as a catalyst for improving yourself, just like when you see people in sport and you feel inspired - religion is no exception." * The National