What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the Islamic Holy Month – a 30-day period where fasting, prayer, charity work and spending time with family are considered paramount. This year, it starts on August 1 and ends with the three day religious holiday of Eid Al Fitr (on or around August 31, moon pending). Muslims traditionally fast from sunrise to sunset. Before the sun is up, those abstaining from food and water get up at around 5am and eat a small meal called suhoor, which will sustain them until sunset, some 12-13 hours later, when the sun goes down again. After hearing the call for the Maghrib prayer, they break their fast, typically with water and one, three or five dates – just like the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Another, larger meal, which is typically eaten in the family home and shared with friends, is called Iftar, and is usually a combination of everyone’s favourite dish.
Can non-Muslims join in after the fasting?
Of course. Apart from the scores of Iftars going on around town (see Time Out Dubai nearer the time for full listings), why not pay your Arabic neighbours a visit? You’ll be welcomed with open arms, but leave it until later – after 9.30pm – when private family time is over and appetites have been satisfied. If you do visit a Muslim friend, then it’s polite to take a small gift of flowers, cookies or homemade cake. You can also present chocolates and dates.
How should we behave in Ramadan?
As a sign of respect and solidarity, it’s important that adults of all colours and religions follow the rules, which are: Don’t eat or drink in public places or chew gum (that includes when you’re in the car too). Children under 12 are not expected to fast and neither are nursing mums, pregnant women, sick people or soldiers. You are free to eat and drink as you please in private, but doing so on the street could result in arrest. Ramadan is a quiet, reflective time, so loud music (and loud behaviour in general) is prohibited. So, what if you’re out and the children get hungry? Pack snacks and drinks as normal, but make sure you feed your kids discreetly. During Ramadan, some cafés look closed because the windows are covered with blinds. But if you knock on the door, you’ll often find they are open and have screened off areas where non-fasting people can get a bite to eat.
What should we wear?
It’s summer, so you don’t want to go around in long sleeves and trousers. But you should be extra careful to observe a level of decency. For adults, both shoulders and legs to the knee should be covered (so no stringy vest tops or micro shorts, please), but your kids will be fine in shorts and T-shirts.
Anything else we should know?
Enjoy it! Go to Iftars and sample real Bedouin dishes, visit galleries and see examples of Islamic art. Talk to Emiratis and ask them about the Holy Month and what it means to them. But remember, Ramadan is all about being kind and charitable, as well as extending hospitality to visitors. It’s a family time and some Muslims are far from home, so make sure they have dates to break their fast, or give them a phone card so they can keep in touch with their families.
Ramadan is scheduled to start on Monday, August 1 and will last for 30 days. The Eid Al Fitr holiday is then scheduled to commence on Wednesday, August 31. However, both are approximate dates as the beginning of Ramadan will only be announced, according to the position of the moon.