Eating in your car? Chewing gum? Sipping water in the gym? Is public daytime eating during Ramadan actually a crime in the UAE. Yes, but there are exceptions…

Ramadan is a time when the rhythms of life in the UAE truly transform – rush hour is from 2pm to 4pm, networking meetings are often held at late night suhoors and the cities hibernate on Friday and Saturday. We love it.

It’s also a time when non-fasters are told to refrain from eating in public – but how much of that is courtesy, and how much is law? Well, it is a crime to eat in public during daylight over Ramadan, but there are exceptions.

We spoke to Sarah Kadhum, associate at BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates LLP, to find out more.

What does the law say about eating in public during Ramadan? 

During Ramadan, it is not permissible to eat, drink or smoke in public between imsak, which is 10 minutes before dawn, until the sun sets, at iftar.

This rule is reiterated in the UAE’s Federal Law No. 3 of 1987, also known as the Penal Code. Article 313 of the Penal Code renders it a crime for anyone to consume food or drinks in public at daytime during Ramadan.

Notably, this rule applies to everyone in the UAE, irrespective of faith or whether they are fasting. It is therefore important for Dubai’s religiously diverse population to be aware of what is expected of them during Ramadan, as ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaching it. Punishment for a person deemed in violation of the law can be either imprisonment for up to one month, or a fine of up to Dhs2,000.

The key lesson for non-fasting people to keep in mind is that they may eat and drink during the day, as long as it is not done in public where they can be seen by fasting people.

What is the definition of public in this case?

The law does not define the term “public” in this context, yet it is interpreted to mean any space which is accessible or visible to the general public.

For this reason, you will note that many restaurants will be closed during the day and will only start operating after sunset, yet there are certain exceptions (as explained below).

Are there any instances in which eating in public is okay?

There are restaurants where people can eat and drink at daytime during Ramadan. These restaurants will have closed-off sections where they serve people, and the point is to provide a place for non-fasting people to eat and drink discretely, without offending or disrespecting people who are fasting.

For non-fasting people at work, they should eat in areas that are separated from where fasting people are working.

It is also useful to know that drinking in gyms is generally considered permissible, as long it is only done within the facility. In any case, it is always worth asking beforehand.

Lastly, children are allowed to eat and drink in public.

What are other important things to know?

While your car may be your private property, you should make sure not to drink, eat or smoke in your car during the day throughout Ramadan if the inside of your car is visible to people outside.

Chewing gum is also considered eating and should be avoided.

When was this law implemented? Have there been any changes to it?

As explained above, the relevant law is Article 313 of the Penal Code, which was issued in 1987. Its effect is to support Muslims in their fast during Ramadan by penalising anyone, whether Muslim or not, who engages in behaviour that is deemed disrespectful of fasting Muslims.

On the other hand, efforts have been made to accommodate people who do not fast, while continuing to respect the spirit of Ramadan. While Article 313 of the Penal Code referred to above has not been amended, certain licensing rules have been revised to enable establishments within the hospitality industry to service non-fasting people during Ramadan.

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Photo: Getty