What Ramadan Isn’t

Every year, bloggers and local papers write countless posts on what Ramadan is for the uninitiated, with many — like myself — citing gripes frequently, but for the most part, newspapers love to shed light on how wonderful Ramadan is.

From my experience and from non-Muslims’ experiences around me, how Ramadan is portrayed is exactly like how any product is portrayed prior to its market debut: Phenomenally spiritual, wonderful, enchanting — and ultimately falls short on these promises. People have come to see Ramadan as a symbol that encompasses everything negative about Arab Muslims living in the Middle East: lazy, impolite, excessive in consumption (of edibles and non-edibles), and discriminating against non-Muslims.

In effect, what people see of Ramadan these days is exactly everything that is not what Ramadan stands for: discipline.

At some point in history, Ramadan joined the ranks of Christmas and Thanksgiving and other religious holidays in their notoriety for exorbitant consumption. The major difference is that Ramadan is one lunar month long, which effectively makes it the most expensive of months for everyone — be it brands, consumers, or just plain residents who are trying to make their way through the world.

I will borrow some of Christianity’s teachings of the Cardinal Sins to elaborate on how people these days make Ramadan the sad state it is in — what Ramadan is, in fact, not:


Forget about sex; this isn’t the sort of lust I am talking about. It is expressed moaning and griping for everything that is out of reach. Water. Food. Coffee. Chocolate. Yes, it seems cute and funny sometimes. But eventually the persistent nagging becomes worrying. The lust for that cigarette break. You’d see people experiencing withdrawal symptoms from everything they could put in their mouths. And good God, the accompanied bickering (and self-victimization. See “Sloth”).

Worse than the relatively understandable moaning the first few days, what ticks me off the most is the lust for everything luxury. Brands (see “Greed”) just love how people want to consume in Ramadan everything that is “exclusive”. Countless “Ramadan Specials” and “Ramadan Promotions” that draw people in for that luxurious Iftar (breaking the fast; the first meal). People actively look for those Ramadan tents to indulge the rest of the vices in. And the greatest indulgence of all is….


That’s right. With the UAE trying to control inflation during Ramadan period because there is a “high demand for commodities”, you’d wonder if the world is coming to an end. Anyone who has been to an Iftar buffet can see exactly why people complain from gaining weight in the month despite not eating half the day. Stores run out of food items quickly.

Let’s pause for a minute here. The population is unlikely to double a week before Ramadan. And, in practice, when people go out grocery shopping for the week, they’re shopping for a two or three-meal-per-day week. And probably add in a few extra items for the sake of indulgence and maybe for the night when friends would come over. Come Ramadan, and the very same people who should shop for that one meal for Iftar and the other smaller meal before sunrise would now shop for what you’d think is either a family of 826 or for an average family which is effectively constantly eating.

Food becomes the primary form of entertainment and indulgence. And, sadly, the tonnes of wasted food that gets thrown away is probably one of the worst by-products of a fasting Muslim.


This one goes out to all brands, hotels, companies, and institutes that feed on the lust and gluttony of people. Hungry? Come eat at our exclusive luxury buffet for only this much and that much. Why, you also get a nice view of Burj X at 90% humidity. Hey, check out our wonderful brand! See what we do in Ramadan! See how we play with your emotions so you can come purchase our products! Buy this bundle of electronics you don’t need in our EXCLUSIVE Ramadan offer! (also check back at our other “exclusive” offers every three months)


If there’s anything a fasting Muslim is ever good at, it’s this: “Hey… yeah can we postpone this? I am fasting you know.” Everyone is lethargic and no one wants to do anything. I sympathise because the lack of food and water will eventually hit cognitive abilities, but some people just push it way too far.


So not only do people make Ramadan as an excuse to not do anything, but they get bitchy about it, too. And you haven’t seen wrath unless you’ve been in rush hour traffic in Ramadan.


Though Muslims and non-Muslims both get shorter working hours, from what I have seen in the UAE and KSA is that laws are enforced to “protect the feelings of fasting Muslims” such as having food courts in malls close or be obscured by a labyrinth of curtains. No one is allowed to eat or drink in public, lest a poor, hungry Muslim feels just awful for not being able to eat or drink or have that much needed coffee.

If that is the case, why is the law not applicable outside of Ramadan, too? I mean, there are plenty of hungry, poor people and labourers on the street all year round, right? It’s OK to eat in front of them while they drool? Isn’t “feeling for the hungry and poor” one of the many aspects of why Muslims fast? So how are you feeling for them if you’re not confronted with the temptations? If you’re in your ivory towers of law that forbids temptation during the day and floods you with it during the night, in what possible sense are you fasting?

And why should non-Muslims be subjected to it anyway? They need to eat. It’s their right. They go to a shopping mall and they can’t even snack without hiding behind curtains. Listen, if a Muslims really wants to eat, he or she will eat. And I admit I’ve done it before.


So, here you have it. Things what Ramadan is NOT about, but have become the status quo thanks to us.


Image Credit: Sarah Kujubu

  • Dina Al Natour

    i totally agree.. I dont get why in some countries i think even in Dubai u can go to jail for eating in public.. there are on muslims, sick people. people who dont fast and i believe it should be bayn il wa7ad wa raboh.. Enforcing laws where even people who are non muslim are not allowed to eat because muslims are fasting?! defeats the purpose of actually experiencing how poor people actually feel.. And some muslims get offended and pissed that OMG “SHUFTEEHA 3am BTAKOL 3ilkeh!! ma AWka7ha!” hmmm and most of those same people who complain about others eating infront of them.. only fast from food..some autni once said call it “syamhum joo3 il klaab” where they are just experience the hunger and nothing else..do everything is that is not “islamic” and fow2 kol had be7amlo il naas JMEEELEH that they fasted! nice post.. :) wa RAmadan KAreem to You ! may you not have to deal with all the above :P

  • http://www.facebook.com/brett.weer Brett Weer

    Brutal Honesty. Thanks for this post. We have headlined with
    it on our Blog Roundup.


  • Mo

    Nice post. The thing with banning public eating, etc. is not only to cater for the ‘feelings’ of fasting Muslims. It is more importantly there to maintain the Ramadan ‘feel’ if you will.

    Granted, both are silly reasons that I can’t possibly agree with. But understanding the motivation behind them helps put things in perspective.

  • inafryingpan

    This post creates exactly the kind of awareness we need. I couldn’t agree more. On the aspect of gluttony, I do hope that people actively use social media (like you did) to discourage the food wastage – and not plaster big fancy photos of their iftar buffets over facebook/twitter/etc. I’m boycotting all fancy/wasteful iftar buffet invites this Ramadan.

  • jarofjuice

    I almost never go to a buffet, and, if I do, I typically just have salads and soup, so it is a waste of money more than a waste of food. Either case, you’re right: so much food is being squandered and it baffles me that people fast and yet are ever so willing to waste so much food.

  • jarofjuice

    One can feel Ramadan without having to root out others, and non-Muslims need to feel the spirit of Ramadan by not being told to eat behind curtains. If they choose not to eat out of respect, it is their choice. To have it as law, though, is something I am against — especially in places like Dubai where non-Muslims are a huge segment.

  • jarofjuice

    Thank you! Wow!

  • jarofjuice

    Your auntie’s “syamhum joo3 il klaab” is a true gem! Thanks for sharing that. She’s absolutely right. And I wanted to add the cardinal sin of “Pride” (which is when they y7amlo jmeeleh they fasted) but I could go on forever on things that people do in Ramadan.

    Ramadan Kareem to you too and Allah yet2abbal siyamna w qyamna.

  • marriamb

    There is much to agree about in this post, but then again, there is also much to disagree about. Though you are trying to portray things Ramadhan is NOT, you ended up appearing negative.

    To your paragraph about LUST: This bit basically
    depends on the general character of the individual. How much of a consistent
    nagging wheel he or she is. Fasting can be like any other day, the habit you yield
    yourself into. It is demeaning to read that all Muslims portray this nagging habit. Not
    all do. Change your crowd.

    To your paragraph about SLOTH: “If there’s anything a
    fasting Muslim is ever good at, it’s this: “Hey… yeah can we postpone this? I
    am fasting you know.” That’s insulting. No. “Muslims” are not like that.
    Individuals, some of which follow Islam, can be like that. Again, Change your crowd.
    Do not generalise on Muslims, it is unfair. That is basically why the media portrays Muslims as crazy lunatics. What about non Muslim individuals who decide to fast the month of Ramadhan with their Muslim friends? Why do you think they enjoy that sort of sacrifice? Because of the good natured character of the Muslim individuals and the pleasant habits they portray during the month. There is always the good and bad, depending on where you are looking. Ramadhan is NOT many things, true, but then again Muslims are also NOT many things.

  • jarofjuice

    Thank you for your comment. It is difficult not to generalise when one is writing a general post. The main purpose of my writing is to highlight some observations I have had in the past X years. This does not in any way represent everyone; certainly, there is a large chunk of people who do not see or categorise themselves in what I have written, such as yourself and the people who have also commented here expressing similar sentiments.

  • Isobel

    I enjoyed this post, Kinan. Although in Canada we don’t have laws forbidding eating in public, and curtained or closed eating areas in malls, it is easy to see that Ramadan has taken on a certain amount of commercialization, just as the main Christian holidays have. It seems like a natural evolution of progress…and it’s hard to go back to simple. Lord knows I’ve tried. Anyway, I think your observations are very astute. I wish you a very happy and peaceful Ramadan – perhaps finding or making your own oasis of calm and simplicity with family and friends.

  • abufares

    Ramadan Karim KJ! Couldn’t agree more on all counts.

  • marriamb

    Thank you :) and Ramadan Kareem.

  • Luma

    First it is good to criticize, but this is not constructed well to make any desired change rather than it is only being Negative. Why Muslims are portrayed as “impolite and excessive in consumption” where have you seen this? Maybe where you live in the Middle East! let me give you a tip; “Muslims” are not only the people you are surrounded with wherever you live, so it is not fair at all to put it as “Muslims” while you should have meant some Arabs with their cultural and social behaviors and traditions that again does not only tie with Ramadan alone!! You are only being negative.. Your article is targeted for a certain culture of the Middle East that you live in and not Muslims, and has nothing to do with Ramadan, you took Ramadan as an excuse to express what you have in mind and heart about the ppl you live around. In other words you have oppressed Ramadan in favor to take your own Wrath and Discrimination out.. All what you have pointed out are sins ppl live and do in their Lives in spite of Ramadan. So What is Ramadan isnt should have been articulated differently becoz this way it is another negative view and another winning attitude that did not result in any value or change.. You could have steered it to another direction instead of just looking negative..

  • maisy

    I have to agree with Luma
    couldnt have put it any better

    This is a very racist post.
    how can you call the fasting Muslims racist while you are the biggest racist around.
    this whole post proves it.

    Have you ever been on a diet ? when people go on a diet and see any sort of food around them , they nag so please dont finger point at certain people.

    Ramadan specials is not different then x-mas specials but i obviously dont see you commenting about that.
    x-mas offers are crazy … where a x-mas dinner meal can go up to $150 per person. isnt that called waste???
    please do you research better next time and ask the restaurants what they do with the extra food?
    all remaining food goes to charities .

    finally this made me laugh that you are complaining that Muslim countries forbid food during the day???
    Are you serious ????? or nooooooo nooo you are joiking sa7? looooool?
    its a Muslim country and its there traditions out of respect to others because thats what ramadan teaches us , to think and feel with others.

  • jarofjuice

    Thank you Isobel, and Ramadan Mubarak to you, too :)

    Commercialisation is the evolution, perhaps, as almost every single aspect of our lives has been commercialised in one way or another. Going back to simple is therefore a personal effort instead of having it as the status-quo.

  • jarofjuice

    Ramadan Kareem to you too, Abufares! May it bring you the peace you’ve longed for.

  • jarofjuice

    Hi Luma, thank you for your comment, Ramadan Kareem,

    It was not my intention in the article to offer solutions for the things I have pointed out because they are all personal struggles we have to overcome ourselves rather than be enforced. As for your statement that I have clubbed all Muslims and applied this to everyone, it should be inferred from what I have written that this is not true. Otherwise I as a Muslim would have been one of those, just like yourself and the rest of the people who have commented to share their sentiments (who live in different parts of the Middle East and abroad).

    I am being negative because this is what is prevalent around me and what I have seen in KSA, UAE, Jordan and Syria, and I am sure it will apply elsewhere as well. Is everyone the same? Definitely not, and thankfully so. I fail to see how I oppressed Ramadan when I am clearly pointing out that all of the above attitudes and sins are NOT what Ramadan stands for and that people should not be like that. My observation is also based on Westerners’ outlook on what they see, who in turn form this wrong idea of what Ramadan is without thinking that some people do it and others don’t.

  • jarofjuice

    Ramadan Kareem Maisy.

    First please tell me where I have mentioned that Muslims are racist. The discrimination I was referring to was the laws. Yes, it is a Muslim country, but why have a law that forbids non-Muslims from eating in public? You cannot force people to be respectful; you can raise awareness that out of respect you should not have your pizza in front of a fasting Muslim, but I do not see what it should be a crime someone has to go to pay a fine for or be taken to jail.

    I also mentioned that Christmas and Thanksgiving have been commercialised in the opening paragraphs of the article. As for people who nag — whether they’re on diet or fasting — then they should stop. Nagging is not part of the discipline when you KNOW you’re going to eat after sunset. The poor who cannot afford to eat are the ones entitled to nagging. Don’t convince me that someone being spoiled for not eating while having access to food has the right to nag.

  • AJ

    If you see the Tabloid pictures of the countless
    Suhoor & Iftar buffet parties that occur in the city throughout the month, you
    will mostly come across overly dressed up (or should I say scantily-clad?) non-Muslims
    pouting & posing. I sometimes wonder do they even know what they are there
    for?! Then I realized may be the real Muslims either don’t get invited to such
    parties or are too modest to go for these social-dos & instead boycott them.
    So don’t blame all Muslims for the gluttony and other sloppiness you see around.
    There are few countries left in the world, where we Muslims have some dignity
    & freedom to practice our peaceful religion without having our Hijabs
    banned. Not being allowed to eat in public is not SUCH a big deal compared to not being allowed to attend school or participate in the Olympics for the simple reason of wearing a headscarf! It’s become
    a worldwide trend to use Muslims as a scapegoat for every sort of negativity,
    please don’t follow this trend.

  • jarofjuice

    You can’t tell whether the people posing are Muslims or not. Either way, I understand where you’re coming from and of course I am fully
    against legislations such as banning Hijab in schools, work, and Olympics (though I have seen some Hijabis in the Olympics already). I am absolutely against this trend, not with it.

  • AJ

    True, I cannot brand all the posers as non-Muslims, but I can also not say that they are all Muslims.
    While some sport categories in the Olympics allow the headscarf, unfortunately there are still a few that don’t, case in point – Judo ( http://sports.nationalpost.com/2012/07/29/saudi-arabian-judo-competitor-will-pull-out-of-olympics-if-forced-to-compete-without-her-hijab-father-says/ ). Inshallah, I hope the world comes to see the harmless Hijab as what it truly is and stop the discrimination. You see, there are bigger problems for Muslims in the world than a few countries prohibiting their expat non-Muslim population to eat in public for a month. Anyway, you get the point.

  • AJ

    True, I cannot brand all the posers as non-Muslims, but I can also not say that they are all Muslims.
    While some sport categories in the Olympics allow the headscarf, unfortunately there are still a few that don’t, case in point – Judo ( http://sports.nationalpost.com/2012/07/29/saudi-arabian-judo-competitor-will-pull-out-of-olympics-if-forced-to-compete-without-her-hijab-father-says/ ). Inshallah, I hope the world comes to see the harmless Hijab as what it truly is and stop the discrimination. You see, there are bigger problems for Muslims in the world than a few countries prohibiting their expat non-Muslim population to eat in public for a month. Anyway, you get the point.

  • Noura

    KJ.. Hi..You came to mind and I wanted to drop by for a quick hello :)

    How are you and how is the family back in Syria? I hope everybody is safe..