Ramadan is a holy month when Muslims commemorate the revelation of the Quran (the religious text of Islam) to the Prophet Mohammed. It is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
During this month Muslims are required to fast (sawm) from dawn until dusk; abstaining from eating and drinking, sex, smoking, and even chewing gum.
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam; basic acts considered mandatory for Muslims. The others are declaration of faith (shahada), prayer (salat), charity (zakat), and pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj).
Muslim children, pregnant women, nursing mothers, the sick, and certain other categories of people are exempt from fasting.
Those observing Ramadan rise early and eat a pre-dawn meal (suhur) before the dawn prayer (fajr).
The fast is broken after sunset and evening prayer (maghrib) with an evening meal (iftar). Traditionally, the meal starts with dates.
Many Muslims gather to break their fast with others. Huge iftar tents, offering extensive buffets, are erected at major hotels.
Dubai is noticeably quieter throughout Ramadan and the pace of life much slower. Muslims will commonly greet each other with phrases such as ‘Ramadan Kareem’ and ‘Ramadan Mubarak’.
When is Ramadan in Dubai?
The month of Ramadan starts and ends with the sighting of the new moon.
In the UAE a committee of government officials, religious leaders, and astronomers (the United Arab Emirates Moon Sighting Committee) confirms the sighting of the crescent moon (hilal) and the beginning of Ramadan.
In 2020 it is expected start on April 24 and end on May 23. The actual dates are dependent on the moon sighting and may vary by a day or so.
The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar. It has 12 months but only 354 days; shorter than the Gregorian (Western) calendar. Consequently, although Ramadan begins on the same day when using the Islamic calendar, it moves 11 days earlier each year on the Gregorian calendar.
Shawwal is the month following Ramadan. It begins with Eid Al Fitr, a three-day public holiday in Dubai and the UAE.
Prayer times, at Ramadan or any time of the year, can be found here.
Rules for Non-Muslims
Non-Muslims are not expected to fast during Ramadan. They should however respect the holy month and refrain from eating and drinking in public places in the daytime. Many restaurants effectively become ‘private’ places by screening off dining areas from public view.
The police do arrest people for eating and drinking in public. They are usually sympathetic to non-Muslims unaware of the rules and will usually first issue a warning. Those failing to heed their advice could be prosecuted.
Non-Muslims should dress modestly and act conservatively. This advice applies throughout the year in Dubai. However, sensitivities are heightened during Ramadan and guidelines are more strictly enforced. Swimwear should only be worn by the hotel pool.
Hotels and Restaurants
Hotels, especially business hotels, are much quieter during Ramadan.
Tourists who don’t mind the hot weather can pick up great deals during this time of the year. Many hotels offer heavily discounted rates; great news for those that normally couldn’t afford a holiday in Dubai. Even residents take advantage of the reduced prices and book a staycation.
In the daytime most hotels usually open at least one of their restaurants. Typically the restaurants doors will be kept closed or the dining area hidden behind screens.
Nightclubs and Alcohol
Many nightclubs close during Ramadan. Those that stay open will not have live music or dancing.
In 2016 Dubai relaxed its alcohol laws, allowing hotel bars to serve alcohol during the daytime. Previously alcohol was sold in the evening.
Shopping malls and supermarkets are open later than usual. Some shops close during the daytime.
Many malls shut their food courts during the daytime. Others keep them open but will screen them off. Prominent notices advise that the food courts are for use by non-Muslims and children.
Popular tourist attractions (Ski Dubai, Wild Wadi, Aquaventure etc.) operate but are much quieter than at other times of the year. It’s a good time to avoid the crowds. Ticket prices are often cheaper too.
Under UAE labour laws, working hours are reduced by two hours per day during Ramadan. Strictly speaking the law also applies to non-Muslims.
Working hours for those in the public sector are 9 am until 2 pm. Most schools will have shorter days throughout Ramadan.
Roads can get busy in the evening when locals go out for evening meals (iftar).
- Ramadan Kareem – Greeting meaning ‘Ramadan is generous’.
- Ramadan Mubarak – Another greeting. Means ‘a blessed Ramadan’.
- Sawm – This is the Arabic word for fasting. It literally means ‘to refrain’.
- Suhur – The pre-dawn meal eaten before fast begins.
- Iftar – The evening meal when Muslims break their fast. It is eaten following maghrib, the prayer just after sunset.
- Hilal – The slender crescent moon first visible after a new moon, marking the beginning and end of Islamic months.
- Eid Al Fitr – The Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan. It translates as ‘Festival of fast breaking’. It begins on the first day of Shawwal, the tenth month of the Islamic calendar.
- Eid Mubarak – Traditional Muslim greeting used during Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha (another public holiday). It means ‘blessed festival’.
United Arab Emirates
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