Aside from a ban on eating and drinking in public, the Holy Month traditions affect you in plenty of lesser-known ways
Nyree Barrett and Becky Lucas
Food prices rise
Traditional iftar dishes certainly include a lot of ingredients: lamb with rice and almonds, beef brochettes, fruit, vegetables, sugary treats and more, night after night, for a month. The result? Supermarkets often experience an increase in demand for these ingredients, and food prices rise. The UAE economy ministry therefore monitors retail food prices during the month of Ramadan to prevent hoarding and price manipulation – last year several retailers (including some sellers at Dubai’s Fruit and Veg Market) were fined for not displaying price tags, and were charged Dhs1,000 for hiking prices.
While some supermarket chains (Carrefour and Lulu) agreed to price caps back in 2008 when food prices reached their all-time peak, Emirates Cooperative Society announced last month that it will be reducing its prices on essential food and non-food items by as much as 30 per cent in all its branches. Huzzah!
The advertising industry goes into overdrive
The Arab world’s television viewing numbers go through the roof during Ramadan, because Muslims tend to stay indoors and tune into special comedies, dramas, religious programmes and (highly melodramatic) soaps. So, as with the annual American Superbowl game, the battle for advertising slots during the commercial breaks is fraught – and lucrative.
Leading broadcasters typically earn about 30 per cent of their annual advertising income during the Holy Month, and this year things are set to be even more profitable. ‘We are expecting a two-digit growth in Ramadan ad revenue on MBC1 this year versus last year,’ says Mazen Hayek, group director of public relations and commercial for MBC Group. The quality of ads therefore tends to improve, as companies vie to become ever-more clever, eye-catching and original than their competitors. There is also usually a rise in advertising sales for Arabic newspapers at this time of year.
Vimto sales go through the roof
Traditionally, Muslims are encouraged to break fast with water and fruit juices. In reality many Muslims first take a sip of famed British fruity concoction Vimto. The drink has always been popular in the Middle East, ever since its invention in the early 20th century. However, after a series of innovative online ads ‘went viral’ in international chatrooms in 2007 and 2008, Ramadan sales of the cordial shot from a typical 15 million bottles to more than 20 million that year – around six times the amount sold in a normal month. Kraft Foods’ Tang is another popular energy-boosting drink after a day of fasting, with its sales rising by 200 per cent during the month. But why are these so popular? Because they’re both non-carbonated, sweet to drink, quickly quench your thirst and give a quick shot of energy (about 17 and 5 calories respectively).
Hotels offer more competitive room rates
Dubai’s hotels are always shouting about their super-cheap summer deals during the hotter months. Why? To try to entice residents to splash out on weekend staycations and persuade tourists to snap up the cheaper flights – all to compensate for the obvious lulls that a 45°C summer can bring. However, the fact that Ramadan falls earlier, on August 11, this year (the Holy Month advances by about 10 days each year, as based on the Islamic lunar calendar) could mean the summer dip is harsher than usual.
Many fasting GCC Muslims tend to stay close to home during Ramadan instead of visiting Dubai, and the ban on alcohol and eating in public during the day may deter foreign visitors from further afield. Alternatively, some hotel managers believe that because Ramadan’s timing falls on the school holidays in Europe, the cultural month could generate more business. Either way, the benefit for us is cheaper Dubai hotel rates throughout. Bonus!
A number of prison inmates are pardoned
Every year on the first day of Ramadan, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, pardons and releases hundreds of prisoners. Last year the count was 595, and in 2008 it was 777, including British DJ Grooverider (aka Raymond Bingham), who was stopped and searched at customs as he entered the emirate, and sentenced to four years in jail for possessing cannabis. The pardoning practice is to express the Ramadan spirit of forgiveness and fresh starts.
People move into mosques for the last 10 days of Ramadan ‘I’tikaf’ is a particularly pious Islamic tradition, in which a person will spend evenings and nights in a mosque, typically for 10 days at the end of Ramadan. This is to ‘recharge the spiritual batteries’ by removing oneself from the temptations of socialising, and spending time worshipping and reading the Qur’an.
Recruitment quietens down
Typically hiring slows right down during summer, especially with Ramadan at the same time, so many company bigwigs and decision-makers tend to go away for the month or work Ramadan hours. However, according to insiders, this year is looking slightly brighter than last. Phew!
The Holy Month is beginning to inspire green initiatives internationally. In Greater Chicago, 40,000 Muslims are supporting a campaign to promote car pools, recycling and reduced meat consumption as part of a Green Ramadan campaign, tying into the fact that Ramadan is a time to change one’s lifestyle for the better.
How good is your memory?
Each year the Dubai government runs the Dubai International Holy Qur’an Award, part of which involves prison inmates memorising portions of the Holy Qur’an. Inmates’ sentences are shortened depending on the amount they can memorise, and learning the full Holy Qur’an can cut 20 years from a prison term. Call 04 261 0666 for info.
How do people know Ramadan has started? According to the Qur’an a crescent moon must be seen in the sky to signal the start of Ramadan. In the UAE, an official moon committee spots the hilal (the first visible sign of a crescent moon) at night, and the next day is the first day of Ramadan. The next sighting of the hilal at the end of the month then marks the beginning of Eid al-Fitr.
Astronomers can forecast when this sighting will occur: here, they have predicted it will happen on August 11, although it is never guaranteed and can sometimes change by a day or two. The sighting of the hilal is staggered across the globe – for instance, Pakistan will probably begin Ramadan on August 10, but parts of Canada may not see the hilal until August 13. Some believe the whole Muslim world should follow the sighting of the hilal in Saudi Arabia to gain consistency, although this is still under hot debate. For now, each country has its own moon-sighting committee.