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What Ramadan Isn’t

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:

LUST

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….

GLUTTONY

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.

GREED

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)

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.” 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.

WRATH

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.

THE DISCRIMINATION

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

The Other Side of Ramadan

The Other Side of Ramadan

Today is the first day of Ramadan, and probably a rare occasion where most — if not all — Muslim countries miraculously agreed that it would be on the 1st of August (correct me if I am wrong), so let’s hope it ends on the same date as well. At least for the first time ever, I would not have to hear sarcastic comments from a Westerner fresh off the boat regarding the whole moon calculation thing.

Indian Muslim vendor separates the seeds of a pomegranate.

An Indian Muslim vendor separates the seeds of a pomegranate at a roadside stall in preparation for Muslims breaking their fast at sundown in Mumbai, India on August 19, 2010. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

There are plenty of wonderful blog posts on Ramadan, including this one from last year by Mich and an updated version for this year here. Practically any news outlet is now talking about Ramadan, in any way or another, and marketing it as a product.

This is my concern.

Everywhere you will read something along the lines of “Ramadan is a time of reflection” and “it is a time of prayers, feeling for the poor, meditation, and sharing” among other things. Then in the next line you would find ill-crafted text that goes “Join us at our luxurious and exclusive Ramadan tent with open buffet for only AED 400 per person”. Then a little asterisk leads you to the fine print which mentions that your AED 400 does not include your shisha and the 15% tax.

Right.

In case you are interested, this is an image of what feeding the poor is like, just in case the exclusive tent does not have charity envelopes for you to donate in:

A child in Kabul, Afghanistan

A child sits with a plate of food that was distributed as part of the holy month of Ramadan, at a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010. (AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi)

Here’s a list of things I do not like about how Ramadan is being practised these days (generally as well as locally):

- Marketing products you hardly ever needed with plasters boasting a Ramadan discount or something along the lines of “in the spirit of Ramadan”.

- The endless barrage of TV soaps and shows, most of which are pointless and have nothing to do with the “Ramadan spirit” or “time of reflection and meditation”. Unless you’re a mosquito that can’t avoid anything glowing, that’s hardly meditation.

- Speaking of glowing, what’s with the jewellery industry crafting gold and diamond necklaces specifically for Ramadan? Is it a status symbol that I wear a ridiculously priced (and usually terribly designed) piece of jewellery that shows my religious support?

- People storming markets and grocery stores as though they have heard that there is no more oil in the world to transport anything further and what you have is all what you would eat till you die from starvation. People should be eating less during Ramadan — you’re shaving off more than half of the day fasting — yet somehow gluttony has become synonymous with Ramadan.

- Ill-tempered people. Okay I understand you have not had your coffee and you have not had your cigarette. That’s the point of fasting: testing your temper and tolerance. Fasting is not an excuse for you to be bad tempered. It is a motive for you to control yourself. I can understand some random bursts here and there — we are human, after all — but to still be a crazed lunatic as Ramadan comes to a close means you have missed the point.

- Speaking of lunatics: people driving. I do not need to elaborate.

- What pisses me off the most: Non-fasting people should not eat and/or drink in front or close to those who fast “to protect their feelings”. I appreciate your concern but Muslims should toughen up and stop victimising themselves with fasting excuses. Again, it’s testing your temptation. If you’re not fasting, you should be able to eat and drink as you please. If you don’t want to out of respect, that’s your choice, but having a law that can put you in jail because of eating and drinking in public is uncalled for. In malls, you see food outlets closed with very few open and barricaded to hide those who are eating. Seriously? My friends in Lebanon and Syria thankfully report otherwise.

I can go on and on but that would bore you. So if you have any other gripes at how people practise Ramadan, please mention it in the comments.

Double Standard Bullshit

Double Standard Bullshit

It’s easy to tell from the title that I am bottled up with thoughts, right? I have a *lot* on my mind and, quite frankly, at the moment I don’t feel quite the diplomatic, complacent self that I am. So this post is not about protecting someone’s ego at the expense of mine.

And here’s the first example of double standards, coming from yours truly:

The content of this post is a personal opinion of mine and not a reflection of any bloody entity I have worked in, working in, will work in, studied in, serviced, or been serviced by, sexually or otherwise, metaphorically or in the literal sense, in this life or the next, in my dreams, be they wet or dry, real or fictional, in any country on this planet, terrestrial, aquatic, aerial or virtual.

Now on to the main point: WHY DOES EVERYONE HAVE DOUBLE STANDARDS?! (including – but definitely not starting – with myself)

Here’s a prime example I have been experiencing since I lost my job in 2009: Almost every company I apply to is seeking a professional candidate (side note: please drop these stupid terminologies, HR) with a myriad of impossibly complex skills to perform tasks that a well trained monkey will be able to perform, eventually. Most notably are soft-skills such as your amazing ability to motivate yourself to move forward while the company closes all doors of hope in your face and subjects you to endless psychosomatic torture.

So the interview goes smoothly for a few minutes before the interviewer’s eyes widen at the blasphemous text which claims I am studying Masters. “Oh, you’re studying,” remarks the now-doubtful interviewer, “how will this affect your working hours and commitment?”

Seriously? You seek a person who is self-learning, self-improving, multi-talented, multi-tasking, multi-anus, and instead of commending their pursuit of self-everything you start questioning business impact? How about you change attitude and say “Oh wow, that is impressive. We would certainly put your skills into good use in improving how we conduct our work and bring in fresh insights to our dinosaur of an organisation.” A couple of friends abroad tell, and some here (from Abu Dhabi) tell me that their companies pay their tuition as an incentive to continue their education.

I lost count of the number of times me and my friends have been rejected or put on the sideline because we are trying to better ourselves.

If you just want to meet your bottom lines, then change the job descriptions and change your screening criteria. If you want competent people who have the potential of doing things differently or better – whether or not they eventually do so – then be more receptive.

I am not kissing ass here but I am glad my boss has so far been receptive.

Now, moving on: WHY THE HECK IS EDUCATION DOUBLE STANDARD? It feels as though the mediocrity of education is directly proportional to your investment. Wikipedia is the most comprehensive school you can ever find – and it’s free. I am not undermining formal education of course – but at least provide a service that is equivalent of how much money I am investing. The frustrations I have towards my college is enough to warrant a cardiac arrest; in fact, I probably will just drop dead on my graduation day – which, by the way, has been pushed six months because of a course offered only once a year (which is ridiculous considering it is a foundation course).

There is just so much I have to say – companies and brands which force their employees to only use their products (examples are cigarette companies and soft drink companies and probably condom companies). Brand loyalty? Through chronic exposure? Or how about companies which claim to be pro-free-speech and support global causes (such as uprisings and the such) yet at the same time ask you to remove any remarks made about clients? Are we now instruments to our organisations that we cannot voice our own opinions without consent? The same companies whose employees tweet and post about the backwardness of authoritarian rule will themselves practice such methods in their organisations.

I grow sick and mentally deranged every day as I read the same tired news all over the web, news outlets, and the only thing that’s noisier than a baby: twitter. So much bullshit going on and I have no idea what’s what any more. Almost everyone on this planet have become pawns and puppets of circumstances. The term “social media expert” has changed from “unemployed and tweeting” to “client bitch” instead of “on-line business enabler”. Whatever is “trending” or in the flow – everyone else flows the same way.

We are *all* striving to be unique and proudly exhibit our uniqueness yet we struggle with the sense of belonging with everyone else and become like everyone else. We all have different capacities in accepting/changing double standards around us – but the cardinal sin is to be in our own.

That’s how it has become post Web 2.0, and on some level I envy the “backwards” people who are content with the little things they have. At an era when reading a book has become a luxury, it is time to say no to bullshit.

How to Celebrate Entrepreneurs

How to Celebrate Entrepreneurs

By not inviting bloggers. Well, most bloggers.

Any person who marginally knows me will attest to the fact that I am allergic to the over abuse of the words “entrepreneur” (which took me a while to learn to pronounce) and social media adjective.

In any case, a few days ago I received an invitation to attend a press conference for an upcoming event that carries the heavy title of “Celebration of Entrepreneurship“. I first cringed at the title, fearing that this would be, a few years from now, an international public holiday. However, I put my reservations aside, wore a white shirt (a rare occasion), put on as professional an attitude I could muster, and attended the event, as a blogger, and here are my two cents on the matter: It took them 40 goddamn minutes to serve me orange juice (which I had to ask for, after declining their fine selection of wine and beer).

Yup. This is what happens when you invite a blogger with multiple personality disorders.

On a more serious note, the event, as I understood, was very informal so my judgement on lack of structure would not add to the matter. Though it bothered me that I entered the hall and found myself comfortable without being asked for an identification or proof that I am allowed to be there to begin with.

Let me get some PR out of the way:

The event was hosted by Arif Naqvi, Founder and Group Chief Executive Officer, Abraaj Capital, and Fadi Ghandour, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Aramex. The panel of entrepreneurs included:

  • Ahmed Bin Shabib, Founder, Shelter
  • Rashed Bin Shabib, Founder, Brownbook
  • Peyman Parham Al Awadhi, Co-founder, Wild Peeta
  • Mohammad Parham Al Awadhi, Co-founder, Wild Peeta
  • Sulaf Al-Zubi, CEO (UAE), INJAZ al-Arab
  • Anas Bukhash, Managing Director, Ahdaaf
  • Amel B.Makkawi, Owner and Director, Art Sawa

The talks from the panel did not go beyond a nutshell version of the story of how each business made it from zero to hero. There were some laughs and giggles at mishaps and when it became apparent that all of them struggled with The System at one point or another. One of the key issues that was brought up every now and then is the gap between The System (laws, government, etc) and small/medium businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. What hit a cord with me was the mention of the lack a “Freelance Residency Visa” that would allow you to pursue your dreams without having your ass owned by the sponsoring company.

I heard that such a visa did exist, in the older days, issued in the emirate of Ras al Khaima, when I was made redundant and was looking at every option to remain in the country for more than 30 days (seriously? 30?). If anyone can confirm it please let me know!

One of the burning questions of every wannabe entrepreneur is “how to do it”, though I am sure the book stores are now full of entrepreneurship material written by experts (because hey, an expert is one who knows more than you right? WRONG!). As Arif and Fadi pointed out several times in the event, education is paramount as people are not born entrepreneurs, but are made. I slightly disagree as you need to be born with the drive, ambition, and leadership (or you grow it during the years), but yes, sometimes you need a push in the right direction and education to know what to do with what you have. According to them, the money is flowing freely in this region and funding has to be put in the right places to address issues that entrepreneurs face. I believe another step would be to invest in the right ideas, otherwise every entrepreneur on twitter (which I think is a good 80% of users) would suck the money out of this region dry.

Anyway, I think I’ve written more than my due as a blogger who writes prose, humour, and uses a lot of Photoshop. The event is in a month so I am sure there will be lots of typical press coverage around it.

Now to end this post in the Jar of Juice way, I present you with a couple of quotes from the conference (and no, I won’t attribute them to anyone):

“I made the decision two years ago to stop going to conferences talking about entrepreneurship” [pause] “Except this one… because it is different.”

And my all-time favourite:

“Private equity is everything that is not public equity.”

An added extra (you can find the text  it came from here):

It means you don’t need antihistamines to work

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