By Anjana Sankar
As someone who grew up in India, the holy month of Ramadan has always passed quite unceremoniously for me. We were aware that our Muslim neighbours and friends were fasting during the month, but no one abstained from drinking or eating in public. It was business as usual. We ate and drank oblivious to those who silently abstained from any kind food or drink.
Moving to the UAE gave me a whole new perspective on Ramadan. One of my fondest memories of Ramadan was during my initial years in the country, when my son was very young.
We had a housemaid from Kerala by the name Sainaba. She lived with us and helped me take care of my son due to my long hours at work.
She was a Muslim and would observe her fast very religiously. However, during Ramadan, I would notice how calmly she would go about doing household chores – cooking, cleaning and feeding my son – without making a fuss about fasting. In the evenings, when I returned home from work, Sainaba would coax me to eat and would even go on to spoil me by offering to make some delicious snacks – all this while she was fasting.
I used to feel the pangs of guilt while devouring a tasty meal after a long working day when a 50-plus woman in my house had not consumed even a drop of water the whole day.
Living with a fasting Muslim in the same house taught me an important lesson – that sacrifices make people stronger. Those were her exact words when I asked her whether she felt tempted by the sight and aroma of food.
“I do this for my Allah and I do this for myself. No one can come between us. When it is harder, I consider it as a test on my faith,” Sainaba told me one evening.
My spiritual side was not as strong as Sainaba’s for sure. But I felt an obligation to keep at least one fast during Ramadan, to express solidarity with her. That was my first dawn-to-dusk fast – and the last one too.
It has been years since I have lost touch with Sainaba (she has moved on), but every Ramadan, whenever I see Muslims fasting and wonder what inspires them to go without food or water for 30 days, I remember what Sainaba had told me about fasting.
Last week, I was part of a group that participated in a guided tour, organised by the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, to familiarise non-Muslims on the traditions of Ramadan.
At the end of the three-hour tour, we sat down with other believers and had Iftar.
It was an awe-inspiring and humbling experience to be among the nearly 30,000 believers who were at the mosque to break their fast.
In everyone of them there, I could see Sainaba and the strength of her belief.
A journalist by profession. Humanist by passion. My cluttered desk is not an indication of my state of mind