Q&A Guide for Non-Muslims Visitors during Ramadan
One of the big areas of concern for non-Muslim visitors to the UAE is how to behave during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
Whilst the basic cultural behaviours for entering a Muslim country can be easy to grasp, there are a few extra steps that visitors need to take during Ramadan to ensure they are being respectful.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the 9th month of the lunar calendar. Following the Hijri calendar, the start date of Ramadan is approximately 10 days earlier each year on the Gregorian calendar. In 2020 Ramadan will fall over April/May, the exact start date is confirmed by the moon sighting committee.
We believe the dates will fall 23 April 2020 to 23 May 2020.
One of the Five Pillars of Worship of Islam – Saum – is fasting during this holy month. Muslims must abstain from eating and drinking (among other things) between sunrise and sunset to teach themselves self-awareness, patience and tolerance. It is said the soul is purified of evil influence and a person’s faith in Allah becomes stronger.
What do non-Muslims tourists & residents need to observe during Ramadan?
Non-Muslim expat residents and visitors are responsible for making sure there is a suitable environment for Muslims to observe Ramadan. Although you are not expected to join in with the fasting, you must show respect to those who are through your conduct.
Eating, drinking and smoking in public by adults during Ramadan is prohibited.
HOWEVER, contrary to laws that carry fines of up to 2000AED for eating in public during Ramadan, general practise in Dubai has significantly changed over the last two years. Eating establishments previously needed licenses to operate during daylight hours of Ramadan, and blacked-out windows. These requirements during Ramadan 2019 seemed to have all but ceased completely.
We are waiting for confirmation as to the legal status now of eating and drinking in public during Ramadan 2020.
Undoubtedly, you are still able to obtain food and drink in hotels and shopping malls now during Ramadan. Walking around eating and drinking in public is most definitely socially unacceptable, if not still illegal.
In the privacy of your own home or hotel room, you can do as you please.
What about children during Ramadan?
Younger children, especially those under six years old are not expected to participate in fasting Muslim and Non-Muslim. Pre-pubescent children between seven and 12 years old may start to observe fasting for short periods at a time. On reaching puberty participation by all Muslims (some exceptions mentioned below) is required.
Schools in Dubai will start later and finish earlier during Ramadan. Opening hours will be advised by individual schools but are normally restricted to a maximum of 6 hour days.
For younger children who attend nursery or playgroups, you should see no change, though hours may be reduced. You should freely be able to feed a young child when they are hungry and dress them as appropriate for the weather.
Exceptions to fasting
There are many circumstances under which a Muslim can be exempted from fasting, including if you are pregnant, diabetic, breastfeeding, menstruating, sick or of old age. the basic premise is you should not participate if it’s detrimental to your health.
For a non-Muslim who is pregnant or breastfeeding, you should still avoid eating or drinking in public, likewise for children between six and 12 years, it may be allowed but even Muslims will do this in a discreet and private way so as not to offend others.
If you are travelling through one of the country’s major international airports, you will see full food services operating as travellers are exempt from fasting (Muslims will make up any fasting days while travelling on a later date).
Breaking of the fast – Iftar
The fast is broken at maghrib (the sunset prayer time) by the firing of a canon. This is followed by the sound of azan echoing from the louds-speaker of a mosque.
This has been a tradition in Dubai since the 1960s. In Dubai, five cannons are fired at: Burj Park, Eid prayer grounds in Al Mankhool and Al Baraha, Madinat Jumeirah and at Dubai City Walk.
Iftar is literally the breaking of the fast, the meal taken immediately after sunset. This is a time for families to come together and eat a meal. Usually, an immediate snack of water and dates is taken before prayers, followed by a large meal.
Many of the hotels in Dubai will put together huge buffet extravaganzas and Ramadan dining tents. it is an incredibly unique experience to join in with Iftar celebrations.
Our 2020 Dubai Iftar Guide coming soon!
As the fast begins again at sunrise, Suhoor is the meal taken immediately before sunrise. Again, many hotels will provide suhoor on a grand scale, some starting suhoor offering from as soon as iftar is cleared and lasting throughout the night.
You will notice Dubai can become an all-night culture during Ramadan.
Other things to be mindful of during Ramadan
Ramadan is not only about food, for Muslims, but it is also about abstention – including tobacco, sex, music – and tolerance.
Appropriate dress standard must be observed in public (much more stringently enforced than usual). All grown-ups (including teens) should be dressed conservatively and look to have arms and legs covered in public – and certainly avoid cleavage and tight clothing. This said, just as dining rules have relaxed in recent years, it seems so have clothing rules.
Hold fire on any public displays of affection, avoid kissing, even hand-holding between grown-ups (with your child is fine).
In that hour or so before sunset and Iftar, the patience of many is strongly tested and you may experience some erratic driving. Best to steer clear of the roads, and if going for your evening meal, be mindful of letting others who might need it more go before you.
It is a time for peace and giving, so try to avoid shouting and anger, and especially no rude words or gestures.
Most workplaces will modify working hours throughout the holy month to accommodate the needs of those fasting.
You may also find shops have very different opening times, with many closed all day and open through most of the night. Major supermarkets and Malls can even be open 24 hours a day! You should have no problem finding an open supermarket throughout the day for groceries; you obviously just cannot consume anything until you get home.
To prevent any confusion there are two Eid celebrations!
Eid al-fitr is the festival of the breaking of the fast, occurring immediately after Ramadan. It is a time of festivities and daytime feasts for Muslim families, also when people will dress in their new Eid clothes, ladies will have their hair and henna done and gift-giving occurs among other celebrations.
It is a very busy time in Dubai and also a public holiday – usually three days but for Government departments, this may be extended to a week.
Eid al-Fitr is likely to commence on 24 May 2020
Charity or Zakat – another of the Five Pillars of Islam – is considered very important during Eid celebrations, giving and thoughtfulness to those less fortunate. You may see a number of white tents popping up all over town even before Ramadan starts, these are for making donations to the needy – it can be a good way to get your children involved in Ramadan and understand the importance of giving.
“The festival of the sacrifice” occurs approximately 70 days after the end of Ramadan. Arafat Day falls first, on the second day of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca – the 9th Day of Dhu Al Hijja on the Hijri calendar.
This is immediately followed by Eid al-Adha. Animals such as sheep or goats are sacrificed and tradition dictates a third is eaten by the family, a third given to relatives and friends and a third given to the needy.
This is another three to four-day public holiday though can be extended to a week also for Government departments and schools (always announced very last minute)
Arafat day is due to occur on 30 July 2020 and Eid al-Adha 31 July to 2 August 2020
Final thoughts mon Ramadan in Dubai
Remember to park any opinions you may have about whether it is “right” or “healthy” or any other beliefs contrary to the Pillars of Islam; whether you are a visitor or an expatriate resident, you are a guest in the country and these are the rules that must be observed.
Before you go… more things to know about visiting Dubai
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