Whether you’ve just arrived in the city or you’re a long-term resident, here’s what to expect during the Holy Month
Time Out Dubai staff
What is Ramadan? It’s the Holy Month in the Islamic Calendar, when Muslims fast (also known as sawm) from sunrise to sunset for approximately 30 days. Doing so is one of the five pillars of Islam. The dates change annually as they’re determined by the sighting of a new moon, for many Muslims, from Saudi Arabia. The start and end of Ramadan will be declared the day before.
Can non-Muslims get involved? Definitely. In the UAE, many iftar and suhoor events are set up all over the country as a way to bring the entire community together. Even if you haven’t been fasting, you are still welcome to join. Here are a few ways you can get involved… • Setting time aside to be with family is an important aspect of Ramadan. It is a time to reconnect with old friends and get to know your neighbours and community. Bring everyone together by inviting them to share a meal. • Exchange Ramadan greetings, especially at the beginning of the month. The word ‘kareem’ in the phrase ‘Ramadan kareem’ is the equivalent to ‘generous’, so the expression means ‘Wish you a generous Ramadan’. • Get into the charitable spirit during the Holy Month by donating to Ramadan camps, care packages and other charity organisations. • Fast along with your Muslim colleagues for a day or two and break the fast together at the time of iftar.
What is iftar and suhoor? Iftar is the meal to break the fast after sunset. Typically, people enjoy dates, dried apricots and Ramadan juices, before heading to evening prayer. After that, large meals are the norm, usually with extended family, friends and neighbours. Suhoor is a meal taken just before sunrise, before the day of fasting starts. Usually this is taken as a family with special food, dates and water. Many hotels host smaller buffets, traditional activities and more to celebrate until the small hours of the morning.
What is the etiquette with regard to eating and drinking if you’re not fasting? During Ramadan, drinking and eating in public is considered very offensive and can even attract a fine or a reprimand from the police. If an individual wants to eat or drink in daylight hours during Ramadan it has to be done indoors and out of sight or in designated screened-off areas within public places.
Are there any exceptions where it is acceptable to publicly break the fast? Generally, fasting is not recommended to people who suffer from medical conditions or women who are pregnant. However, the same rules apply to them as well – not to eat or drink in public places and to use designated screened-off areas in public that are well hidden from view.
What are the rules regarding dress during the holy month of Ramadan? It is recommended that both men and women dress conservatively during the month of Ramadan. Not doing so may offend those who are fasting. Individuals must refrain from wearing revealing and/or tight clothing and at the very least ensure shoulders and knees are well covered during the Holy Month.
Are people permitted to listen to music during the holy month of Ramadan? People in general must refrain from listening to music loudly during the Holy Month, as it may offend those who are fasting. However, it is acceptable to listen to music on your smartphone or iPod with the aid of headphones.
With a large proportion of the population fasting, what should people consider when driving? As sunset approaches, a lot of people will be driving to iftars or mosques to break their fast and say their prayers. During this time, it’s wise to be extra considerate on the roads – so try to avoid using the horn if someone cuts you up. Also, don’t play loud music in your car.
What is the significance of charity during Ramadan? Charity is a very important part of Islam and is even more significant during Ramadan. However, you don’t have to be a Muslim to give during the Holy Month. There are plenty of charitable initiatives, Ramadan camps, iftar camps, care packages and more, all of which can be contributed to during the Holy Month.
What is Eid and why are there two? Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are the main two annual Islamic celebrations. Eid al-Fitr translates as the ‘festival of breaking the fast’ and happens immediately after Ramadan, with festivity, day-time feasts and family gatherings. Customarily, family and friends dress up in new Eid clothes and visit each other’s houses bearing gifts (expect traffic to increase in the days leading up to this, as people hurry to get new clothes, haircuts, henna and buy all the ingredients for their feasts). Many families will also visit the poor and needy in their own communities to make sure they have enough food and water to celebrate themselves. Charity is known as zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, and is particularly significant during Ramadan and the Eids.
Eid al-Adha is the second celebration in the year and translates as the ‘festival of sacrifice’. And that’s just what it is as, traditionally during this time, animals like sheep and goats are slaughtered. It’s approximately 70 days after the end of Ramadan, and marks the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (another pillar of Islam). For many, it’s required to do the slaughter yourself and is often seen as a rite of passage for Muslim boys. Traditionally, one third of the meat is kept for the family, another third is given to friends and relatives, and the last third is given to the less fortunate. Both Eids are national public holidays that typically last three days (often longer for some sectors), so expect government departments, shops and businesses to be closed.
Good to know
Ramadan hours Although it often varies by industry, many businesses will have different opening and closing times, including shopping malls, grocery stores, cinemas and more. To avoid disappointment, double check times before you head out.
Useful phrases Impress your Muslim colleagues and friends, or simply stop a stranger in the street, and rattle off a few of these (reasonably) easy to use phrases during Ramadan: Ramadan mubarak = Blessed Ramadan Ramadan kareem = Happy / generous Ramadan Iftar shahy = Have a good iftar Mubarak aleik al shahr = May you get the blessings of the month Kil aam wa inta fee kheir = May each year pass and you be well
Hag Al Leylah In the UAE, the 14th day of Ramadan is known as Hag Al Leylah, a unique Khaleeji (the Gulf) children’s holiday. It’s known by different names throughout the region but customarily on this day children don traditional clothes (embroidered vests and caps for boys and embroidered veils and dresses for girls) and head out to collect sweets, nuts and coins in special cloth bags, while singing traditional songs. Many shops and supermarkets will also offer specially decorated party packs and baskets. It’s a great way for non-native kids to learn something about the local culture and have fun doing it while making new friends.