[The cannon in front of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is fired daily during Ramadan to signal the sunset - which is when people can break their fast. (Photo: Reem Mohammed / The National)]
Dubai: Long-term British Expatriate Nick Watson has been living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for 20 years and so far he has not missed one Ramadan. Now marking his twentieth holy month in the place he calls home, his perception of the month of fasting has changed dramatically since touching down in the country back in 1998.
While living in the UK, Watson said his exposure to Ramadan was limited, though he was familiar with the basic concept of the Muslim tradition.
"We only knew the fundamentals about the Holy Month of Ramadan from our friends in the UK who were Muslim and fasted. So when we arrived in Dubai, we were very curious to learn more," he told Khaleej Times.
When Watson and his wife Delphine, first moved to Dubai he said Ramadan was a lot quieter and took some adjusting to.
"When we arrived 20 years ago, Ramadan was quieter, with the majority of food and beverage outlets closed. It was a new experience for us. We really wanted to learn and understand more about Ramadan, but we were a tad nervous in the first year in case we broke any rules that we were not aware of it. We did not want to be disrespectful", he said.
But with their curiosity piqued, they were keen to immerse themselves in the holy month as a way of familiarising themselves with the culture and traditions of their new surroundings. Working as a personal trainer at the time, Watson decided to join his clients in observing a fast throughout the month.
"In those days, when we first arrived, I worked as a personal trainer and had many Emirati clients, so out of respect and curiosity, I used to join them in fasting through the day", he said.
And it was a "special experience" which he said he enjoyed being a part of it.
"I learned so much. I learned more about Ramadan as a whole by asking countless questions to my clients, and I learned a lot about myself through self-reflection of the experience. It made me connect closer and have more empathy and understanding for the practice and reasons surrounding Ramadan", he said.
Nowadays, Watson said he really looks forward to the commencement of the holy month, something he didn't necessarily think would be the case 20 years ago when he was adjusting to the idea of something so new.
"We really look forward to and enjoy the month. It is a special, quiet time of reflection for all of us. It also allows us to feel very grateful for the place we live in that it respects and embraces all cultures, religions, and nationalities", he said.
Sharing Iftars and Suhoors with many different nationalities over the years, Watson said the month of fasting and reflection has now become a tradition for his family, a family of non-Muslims.
"We have had the honor and pleasure to have been invited to join many Emirati families at their homes for Iftar, which allowed us to truly experience Ramadan first hand; for which we are very grateful. It is probably one of the reasons we still live in the UAE, as we have had the opportunity to be and feel a part of the community, by experiencing the culture with these people", he said.
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