UAE - Filipino expatriate Ross Pisuena, 55, is a devout Christian but he visits four to five mosques daily during Ramadan — and he does this with a running group he started a decade ago.
The activity is called 'RunMadan Challenge' and the objective is for the runners — especially new expatriates — to immerse themselves in the UAE and Islamic culture.
“We are inspired by the Islamic practice of self-discipline, sacrifice, perseverance and piety, Pisuena told Khaleej Times, adding: “Putting one foot in front of the other and visiting mosques, especially during Ramadan, helps us learn more about Muslim culture and tradition.”
The group does a 5-7km run that allows them to stop by four to five mosques every day after Iftar.
This year, they are targeting to visit around 220 mosques — including the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and a couple of mosques in Ras Al Khaimah.
The group has grown big since Pisuena and his eldest daughter, Bea, did the first 5km run covering three mosques in Muhaisnah 2, Dubai, on July 19, 2012. The following year, 20 runners joined the father-daughter tandem and the 'RunMadan Challenge' was born.
In 2014, 60 runners of various abilities participated on Day 1 of the challenge.
Pisuena had to put a cap of 100 runners daily in 2015 to properly monitor the group and ensure safety. By this time, he introduced an initiative where runners collected items that were distributed to distressed OFWs (overseas Filipino workers).
“RunMadan evolved into a charity campaign for our needy kababayans (compatriots),” said Pisuena, adding: “We were also conscious not to raise money because we are a non-profit group. We only collected in-kind donations.”
“For our seventh season in 2019, we had a ‘7 Emirates RunMadan Challenge’, where we covered all the emirates in 30 days. We were also lucky there were some companies who gave us material support, including free T-shirts. We also distributed generous prizes to those who completed the seven-emirate run,” Pisuena continued.
The run was abruptly disrupted in 2020 because of the global pandemic. The group made a comeback the following year; and in 2022, runners were already in full swing.
This year, Pisuena took a leaf from the Dubai Expo passport. He designed a passport given to each participant to monitor his/her daily run.
Pisuena, who is an architect by profession, is confident 'RunMadan Challenge' will continue to grow in the years to come, especially with fresh legs joining the group every year.
He has already achieved his initial goal of instilling a love for sports among his three children, who are now young professionals.
He said: “What started as my personal quest to keep myself and my family healthy has become a movement for social interaction. We are now seeing participation not only from Filipinos, but also from Russian, Indian, American and British runners.”
“But more importantly, we have built camaraderie and used running as a tool to learn and respect the main religion of our host country,” he concluded.
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