Ramadan is upon us, and it brings about a number of changes for expats living in the UAE. It is a significant month of the Islamic calendar, and a wonderful opportunity to understand and embrace the local culture. If this is your first Ramadan, refer to our handy beginner’s guide!
When does Ramadan start and finish?
The first day of the Holy Month of Ramadan is marked by the sighting of the crescent moon. An official announcement will be made by the moon-sighting committee in Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Islamic world follow this declaration. Experts believe Ramadan is likely to fall on May 6, 2019.
Ramadan continues for one complete moon cycle, therefore usually 29 or 30 days. The sighting of the moon determines the duration, and is announced accordingly. Immediately following Ramadan is Eid Al Fitr, an annual three-day celebration. Official public holiday dates will be announced by the government.
How is Ramadan observed?
Capable, adult Muslims of good health fast from dawn until sunset every day. The practice of fasting means that Muslims may not eat or drink anything, including water. There are some exemptions to fasting; those who are elderly, unwell, pregnant, menstruating or breastfeeding. Children will generally not fast until they reach puberty (although many choose to do so).
During Ramadan, Muslims also refrain from smoking, sexual relations, sinful speech and behaviour such as gossip, fighting and lying. They will increase worship, and pray every night for 30 days. Ramadan is a time of giving, and Muslims will also increase charitable activities.
Breaking the fast
Muslims break their fast at sunset, at the time of call for prayer. The fast is broken with a social meal called Iftar. Traditionally, dates are consumed first, along with water. This is followed by soup and main dishes, juices and desserts. Restaurants offer Iftar to Muslim and non-Muslim residents, and is a pleasant experience.
Each morning before sunrise, Muslims will engage in Suhoor. Eating a healthy meal at this time enables them to fill up adequately, and endure good health for the rest of the day.
What is the correct greeting to use?
Greet people by saying “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak.” Both of these mean that you are wishing people a blessed and generous Ramadan.
Work hours and opening times
In general, employees from across all sectors will note reduced working hours, regardless of whether or not they are observing Ramadan. The work day is generally reduced by two hours. School timings will also be affected. Some businesses adjust their hours for Ramadan, so timings of stores, services, public transport and paid parking may vary. Malls remain open (with the exception of food courts and eateries), and may even stay open later than usual. Supermarkets and grocery store hours are normal, and you can follow your usual food shopping procedures.
Eating during the day
Non-Muslims are asked to show respect for those who are fasting, by refraining from eating or drinking in front of them. This applies to public situations, as well as the workplace. Within schools, fasting children will have separate, designated areas for usual break times.
Some restaurants and cafes are open for normal dine-in options during Ramadan. All food and beverage outlets must obtain a special licence, and operate discreetly with curtains or window block-outs so that all consumption is hidden from the public. Many places offer take-away options to eat privately elsewhere.
Overall, the basic Ramadan etiquette is as follows:
- Do not eat, drink or smoke in public during the hours of fasting. Note also that chewing gum is considered as eating.
- Avoid eating or drinking in your car. Although it is your private property, you are still visible to the public.
- Dress respectfully. Women should cover their knees and shoulders in public, and men should avoid wearing sleeveless shirts.
- Do not demonstrate public displays of affection.
- Do not play music or dance in public.
- Do not swear or exhibit any aggressive behaviour.
- Do not refuse a gift or an invitation to join a Muslim family at Iftar.
Please note there are penalties for not adhering to the Ramadan etiquette.
As a non-Muslim guest of the UAE, make the most of the community spirit, and immerse yourself in the cultural activities taking place during the Holy Month.