The once bustling hallways of Dubai Mall were virtually people-free this morning. Shop roller-shutters closed tight, lights dimmed and closure notices displayed prominently on many shopfront windows. Restaurants that once served up deliciously smelling delights lay barren without any hint of service, produce or the usual eclectic clientele.
A few days ago the moon-gazing clerics decreed that Ramadan can officially begin — ending what some would call an opulent lifestyle bordering on debauchery.
It’s always puzzled me how for all our technological advances, the moon landing or even humanity’s ability to dispatch probes to the far edges of our galaxy, how is it that the calculation of the moon phase still poses such a challenge? And yet, in this age of the internet and genetic engineering, we continue put our lives on hold for a nod of approval from those obsolete moon-spotters.
Not even after their own calculations are completed can they formulate a final decision with any certainty: “Insha Allah Ramadan will begin on Friday July 20.”  Adding more confusion to the practice, Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon started Ramadan on completely different days — surely not a case of observing the moon from a different hemisphere? 
Call it what you will, but from my observation deck, this moon spotting business looks very much like a job creation scheme. Sure, people are entitled to their opinions and should be free to worship whatever they choose, but I tend to draw the line when archaic traditions throw the world into limbo while the Qur’an-thumbing deliberators reach a decision on whether I can or can’t eat during the day (at least in public).
Had I not been paying attention and decided to stroll around the neighbourhood while sipping on my sparkling water, the ensuing commotion could have easily landed me in trouble.
I have but one word which could have avoided this situation altogether: standardization. I had hoped that perhaps someone though of standardizing earlier, but a quick search for the word “ramadan” on the ISO website returned zero results. Had ISO existed during the time of Muhammad (peace be upon him), I’m sure he would not object in formulating a standard that was universally applicable.
Nevertheless, we’re in the midst of Ramadan and this is not your typical weekend either. On a normal weekend, unless you arrive bright and early, attempting to get anything done in the mall can be a punishing experience. Arrive any later than midday and the probability of completing your errands within an acceptable time-frame tends to approach zero.
The greatest hazard comes from the black-clad ninjas — Emirati moms waddling hip to hip with the rest of their extended and undisciplined clan. Just like a cavalry regiment, the large brood conspires to block the full width of the mall — manoeuvres of military precision designed to quell the enemy’s movements.
Between their glistening designer handbags, the girth of their abayas and the super-deluxe prams fitted with off-road tires, the only option is to rhythmically shuffle in sync with the rest, until a fork in the road, an escalator or lift liberates you from detention.
Entrapment such as this, borders on the inhumane. If you’re quick and manage to backtrack you might get lucky in finding an alternative route. Hesitate in executing that hasty retreat and you will find a second wave of black assassins closing in from behind to complete the pincer movement. 
I vote for the introduction of fast and slow-moving lanes where the strolling masses can congregate without impacting normal traffic flow. Hell, given the size of some of these malls I’d even vote for the introduction of a bicycle lane — although, I suspect there’d be a lot of opposition to such an initiative unless there was a diesel V12 option chauffeured by a Pakistani.
In Dubai’s defence, for all its glitz, glamour and grandeur, when the temperatures start to regularly hit 50°C, the malls offer the only refuge from the scorching oppression. And now, during the holy month of Ramadan, with the cafés closed and restaurants in a state of hibernation, there is little to motivate the hordes to abandon their palatial homes in search of edible delights and the latest designer bargains.
For anyone trying to avoid the crowds, Ramadan certainly delivers peace and tranquility — at least until sunset.