There’s a palpable sense of peace that fills the air at this time of year. Ramadan, the spiritual month of self-reflection, is on our doorsteps and the region prepares for four weeks of family, faith and fasting.
The other 334-odd days of the year are often spent in a near-constant cycle of hectic schedules as we spend our time running between our responsibilities with little respite. Which is perhaps why, even though the heat has settled in for the foreseeable future, we’re all ready for the change of pace that inevitably comes with the arrival of Ramadan.
That’s not to say, however, that this is a time without work. Muslims spend their days abstaining from food and water between the hours of sunrise and sunset, instead focusing on their faith, through prayers and the reading of the Qu’ran. Whilst for some the thought of abstaining from food and water for a 12-hour period might seem daunting, for those observing Ramadan it is a time-honoured celebration. Even though the days are slower and quieter, iftars and suhoors are lively events, with music and lavish banquets, as everyone comes together to break fast or prepare for the new day.
Here, Bazaar talks to four Emirati women about what the month of Ramadan means to them, how they and their families celebrate, and how they adapt their personal style for the holy month and fuse elements of modernity with traditional modesty.
LATIFA ALGURG, 34
Latifa wears: Abaya, Dhs2,100, and shayla, Dhs460, both Twisted Roots. Shoes, her own
“Ramadan, to me, is a time of reflection, peace and reconnection,” Latifa Algurg tells Bazaar. “My favourite part of it is the spirituality. It’s a time of reflection that brings me great inner peace.”
It’s also a time when her family comes together, and they choose to break fast at home for this reason. “My whole family, even extended relatives, meets for iftar every evening during Ramadan. It’s a lovely way to catch up, become closer and spend quality time together. This means there are three to four generations gathered in one place. It’s so nice to have everyone join together in such a warm, lively environment for the whole month to share the experience.”
As a designer herself and owner of UAE-based clothing label Twisted Roots, Latifa has an appreciation for the talent coming out of this region. “There are so many up-and-coming names here, I like to wear a diverse range of designers. I feel like, here, they have a unique voice that people are starting to notice. One designer in particular who I identify with and wear a lot, is Huda Al Nuaimi.” Her personal style during Ramadan, she says, doesn’t differ much from the rest of the year. “I live in jeans so I’ll usually just be in those, a nice top and an abaya. My go-to brands include Huda’s line, Chi-Ka collections and At A Glance.” She adds, “For evenings during Ramadan, I love finding new ways of wearing the traditional, like pairing a classic jalabiya with modern accessories from Monica Vinader and Loquet, or a contemporary kaftan with vintage jewellery. I have a pair of Arabic gold hoop earrings that my grandmother gave me when I was born that are particularly dear to me, as well as a vintage watch locket from my mother-in-law.”
ALIA AL SHAMSI, 34
Alia wears: Dress, Dhs2,400, Bambah. Shayla, her own
Alia Al Shamsi, an Emirati/Italian photojournalist, author and poet, tells Bazaar that, “By MHS is one of my favourite regional designers to wear during Ramadan. It’s just launched and it has stunning fabrics.” As for her overall style aesthetic, Alia says she continues to choose bright coloured pieces, just in more traditional silhouettes. “I swap my usual look for something a little more modest and traditional, like a jalabiya. Though I still do stick to bright colours and go for pieces that have a contemporary twist.”
Her favourite part of Ramadan, she tells us, is the discipline it instills. “When you are fasting it teaches you patience, resilience and discipline of mind. I am very aware of my thoughts during Ramadan. You need to acknowledge how you feel and suppress the feelings of discomfort that hunger can bring so you learn to act instead of react, and you control your behaviour too by thinking before speaking.”
During the month, Alia and her family gather together and “teach the children about giving and helping others.” Part of this involves taking her son Ahmadino along to a charity initiative. “Last year I took part in Ramadan Aman where we gave out mini meals to motorists at iftar time. Its aim was to help drivers slow down and not rush home as most accidents happen during that time.”
Iftar in Alia’s house is such an occasion that she and her family always break fast at home, rather than a restaurant. “My mum thinks our table is a restaurant,” she smiles. “The food in the house is too good to leave. My mum makes thareed, my dad makes tagine, and my brother makes chicken with laban. I would love to contribute but they already all do such a great job!” she adds with a laugh.
HESSA AL FALASI, 27
Hessa wears: Abaya, Dhs4,200, Hessa Falasi. Shayla and shoes, her own
Given the heat that currently accompanies the holy month, 27-year-old HF Boutique owner Hessa Al Falasi says she prefers pieces “made from light materials and colours” and typically wears “kaftans with detailed embroidery or Moroccan-inspired versions.” When it comes to her favourite designers, she admits that she struggles to pick just one because “there are so many” but lists “21 Techniques, The Kayys and Razan Alazzouni” as her fail-safe choices, particularly for the month of Ramadan.
For Hessa, Ramadan is a time “of fasting, reading the Qu’ran and praying.” It’s also a time that she and her family give back to the less fortunate in the community. “We like to cook food for the poor and give away things we don’t need to those who will use them,” she tells Bazaar. “We send it to the Masjed where people who need it gather. We also donate money to charities that make special Ramadan tents for the labour camp workers.” This tradition, she explains, is something she learned from her parents and grandparents. “Part of the Muslim faith is to help others and giving food in Ramadan is an example of that. It started when I watched my parents and grandparents distribute food and when I started making my own income, I began to do the same.”
REEM AL ZAROUNI, 33
Reem wears: Abaya, Dhs3,200, Chi-Ka. Earrings, Dhs126,850; ring (left), Dhs128,100; ring (right), Dhs143,250; bracelet, Dhs276,400, all Vhernier. Shoes and shayla, her own
“There’s no question about where I break fast,” Reem Al Zarouni, partner and co-organiser of the Modern Woman Show, explains, “I break it at home with my family. I enjoy seeing everyone get together. I make an effort to have iftar with my parents daily, and then catch up with the rest of my family at my brother’s house.” Here, they enjoy Reem’s mother’s signature iftar dishes – “harees and farni” – as well as her personal favourite: “thareed; which is thin ragag bread with meat curry and vegetables.”
Ramadan, Reem tells Bazaar, means “a time of worship, family and friends” and her favourite part of the month is “seeing my family and friends more often, especially at these gatherings.”
When it comes to her style during the holy month, Reem says, “It differs from my usual attire in the sense that I wear more kaftans and jalabiyas than I normally do during the rest of the year.” Day-to-day she wears “a loose kaftan under an abaya with simple jewellery,” and by night she opts for “fancier kaftans and bigger jewels.” Her go-to designers? “I love House of Kaftans by Maryam Bin Sulaiman. I wear her pieces every Ramadan. As for abayas, Chi-Ka collections has gorgeous ones, and for jewellery, I love Vhernier.”
In terms of the progression of Ramadan-style over the years, Reem tells Bazaar, “I think jalabiyas are timeless; they’ve been around for generations and will stay for much longer but the younger culture prefers wearing kaftans for gatherings so I believe that style has modernised, whilst still keeping those conservative roots.”
Words: Maddison Glendinning. Photography: Norbert Kniat. Styling: Gemma Deeks. Hair: Pierre at Blowout & Go. Make-up: Kristina and Emily at Blowout & Go. Blowoutandgo.ae. Photographed on location at xva art hotel xvahotel.com. Prices approximate