A helpful guide…  

Ramadan is expected to begin on, Tuesday, March 12. But if you are new to the UAE and wondering what it all means? Here’s what you need to know about this special time of the year….

Ramadan Q&As

What is Ramadan?

The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is a time when Muslims around the world abstain from eating, drinking or smoking between sunrise and sunset.

Lasting about a month, it marks the time when the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Extra tarawih prayers are performed at the mosque throughout Ramadan and each evening 1/30th of the holy book is recited. By the end of Ramadan, many observers have read the entire Qur’an.

Why is Ramadan so important to Muslims?

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, which is the foundation of the religion. The pillars are the framework by which Muslims everywhere live, and Ramadan is considered the holiest time in the Islamic calendar. It is a time for prayer, reflection and religious devotion, to cleanse past sins and to focus on Allah through good deeds.

Here are the five pillars of Islam…

Testimony of faith Religious devotion to Allah as the one God and Mohammad (PBUH) as the messenger

Prayer The promise to pray at the required five times every day

Zakat Muslims are taught to give a certain percentage of their wealth to charity

Fasting during Ramadan This is an annual commitment that Muslims follow

Pilgrimage to Mecca All Muslims are obliged to do the hajj, the trip to Mecca, at least once in a lifetime

Why do Muslims fast?

Fasting, or sawm, loosely translates as ‘to refrain’. So during Ramadan, Muslims commit to not eating, drinking, smoking or even chewing gum during daylight hours. But sawm isn’t just about physical restraint, it also refers to bad thoughts, actions and words.

Many people assume that Ramadan is about deprivation, but in Islam it’s often a time to spend with family, breaking fast at sunset over iftar. The fast itself is intended to help Muslims learn about self-discipline and restraint, and enable them to empathise with those who have less.

Must everyone fast?

For Muslims, everyone is required to fast, but there are exceptions. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly and infirm are not required to fast due to possible health complications. Women on their monthly cycle do not fast, nor do people who are ill. If there is a temporary break in the fast, Muslims are required to make up the missing days after Ramadan. Non-Muslims are not required to fast. However, they should behave sensitively throughout Ramadan.

Does everything close during the day?

Although this rule needs to be confirmed for 2024, many cafés and restaurants remain open during Ramadan. Previously, restaurants either closed or were required to put up curtains and screens to conceal those people eating. Timings will differ for each restaurant – some may have shorter or different opening times, so it’s best to check ahead.

Everything tends to happen much later in the day during Ramadan. Malls may even choose to close even later than usual, with many staying open well after midnight.

Do I need to do anything differently during the day?

It’s important for everyone to dress and behave appropriately during the holy month. Even those who aren’t fasting should make sure that their clothes are modest in public spaces, especially in areas where people around them could be fasting. Keep music levels down to a minimum when you’re driving and, of course, no public displays of affection. 

Ramadan glossary

Iftar: The meal at sunset when Muslims break their daytime fast.

Suhoor: Technically the meal before sunrise before Muslims start fasting. Much more laid back than iftar, suhoor often starts late at night and runs into the early hours of the morning

Hilal: The thin crescent moon marking the beginning of a new month in the Islamic calendar, which is used to predict the start of Ramadan

Sunnah: The teachings and practices of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Eating dates to break fast, for example, is a sunnah

Ramadan Dos & Don’ts

DO make the most of the community spirit. Introduce yourself to your neighbours, get involved in and catch up with friends and family.

DO accept food and drink when offered during iftar – it is a sign of respect and friendliness.

DO remember that your office hours are likely to change, whether you’re Muslim or not. The general UAE labour law states that all workers’ hours are reduced during Ramadan to six hours a day – but this will be announced closer to the date. Stay tuned!

DO become a night owl. Everything happens later during Ramadan. Malls are open past midnight and suhoors go into the early hours. Embrace the late nights and discover a side to the UAE you may have not seen before.

DO your bit for a good cause. Ramadan is a good time to put your money where your mouth is. The UAE has a wide range of charitable and volunteering organisations that you can get involved in. 

DO embrace the culture. Take your family to tents, play a set of backgammon or bring a deck of UNO cards, and relax with Moroccan mint tea.

DO try fasting for a day. It’s a good way to understand what your Muslim friends and colleagues are experiencing.

DON’T forget the rules. Eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours should be done with caution.

DON’T dress inappropriately or wear tight-fitting clothes in public spaces– modesty is key.

DON’T leave dinner reservations until the last minute – restaurants across the UAE tend to get a lot busier as families and friends meet to break their fasts together.

DON’T play loud music or swear in public as it may offend those who are fasting.

DON’T get into arguments or fights. Ramadan is the month of peace and serenity.

DON’T miss it. Many expats tend to leave during Ramadan, but this is one of the most vibrant times in the UAE. It’s the perfect time to immerse yourself in the culture.

Useful phrases

Ramadan Kareem
Blessed Ramadan

Siyam Kareem
Blessed fasting

Eid Mubarak
Blessed Eid (only used during Eid Al Fitr, at the end of Ramadan)

Photos: Getty