Similar to the millions of Muslims around the globe, the Maldives with around 400,000 Sunni Muslims are observing Ramadan, a month of religious reflection and fasting that takes place every year.
One of the five pillars of Islam, Ramadan commemorates the Quran first being revealed to the Prophet Muhammad; a moment honoured with abstinence from food and water, smoking and sexual activity during the day.
For the tiny island nation globally renowned for its pristine beaches and crystal clear waters, Ramadan breathes new life into age-old traditions, customs and culture amplified by a common religious faith, strong family bonds and neighbourly love. In recent years however, development, technology and above-all 'westernization' has seen locals - especially the millennials lose touch with their roots and more often than not such traditions have slowly become 'awkward and embarrassing' for most of us.
Ramadan for Maldivians has always remained a festival. Locals traditionally prepare for Ramadan by refurbishing and cleaning homes, stocking up on food, organizing and attending pre-Ramadan meals called 'Maahefun' for family, friends, and work colleagues.
Most of us especially in the densely populated capital city truly do not know their neighbours. We may recognize them passing us by the hall way, the stairwell or the elevator. A wry smile or a slight nod is the most human contact we can muster with our neighbours. But for one month of the year, most of us are swept away by neighbourly love.
We no longer feel mortified by the thought of borrowing 'a cup of sugar' from neighbours. To share a taste of our daily feast we prepare with so much effort while fasting with a neighbour suddenly becomes a matter of pride and immense joy while without the 'daily bowl' from our neighbour, your own table seems somewhat incomplete.
The spirit of Ramadan transcends the normal relationship we share with friends and work colleagues. The friends we almost always call up to meet at a cafe now can be seen making their way to the mosque during Ramadan. Just like we wait for that tardy member of our group to arrive before placing our coffee order, its not uncommon to see the same courtesy extended before going for prayers. Even in the work place, small groups would be seen heading to the mosque together. Prayer and faith suddenly are no longer taboo. We seem to encourage and motivate each other to be better Muslims.
Ramadan also brings out the best in our families. Kitchen would longer be 'off limits' to men. Lending a hand for the daily feast does not appear to undermine their masculinity. Every member of the family would contribute as some chop, others bake, fry and juice, while they talk, joke and laugh.
For most of us during Ramadan, we spend more time with our family on a single day than we have the rest of the year combined. Though we would be hard-pressed to remember the last time everyone living under the same roof shared a meal together, during Ramadan, you sit at the same table every day.
There was a time when such beautiful traditions and customs were not just an annual occurrence. We truly knew our neighbours. Knew their names. Shared meals together. Helped them when they were in need. There was a time when friendship meant a lot more than a cup of coffee or a post on social media. And family was defined by more than blood.
Ramadan - every year seems to reawaken our true selves. How we used to be and what we were truly meant to be. We could at least try to hold onto to it - even if its a sliver, beyond just the one month every year.