Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is regarded as the holiest month of the year as it was the month in which the Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) on the night of Laylat Al Qadr, one of the last ten nights of Ramadan.
Ramadan is the month of piety, charity and blessings. During Ramadan, capable Muslims are required to abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. Such fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Like other months, Ramadan too begins at the first sighting of the new crescent moon and lasts 29 or 30 days depending on the sighting of the next crescent. The UAE follows an official announcement in this regard from the moon-sighting committee in Makkah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as Makkah is considered the holiest city in the Islamic world. It is the birthplace of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and also the location where he had his first revelation of the Quran.
The Islamic calendar has 354 days. Hence, Ramadan arrives 11 days earlier in every subsequent year of the Gregorian calendar. People greet each other by saying 'Ramadan Kareem', which means 'Happy Ramadan'.
How is Ramadan observed in the UAE?
The Ramadan traditions in the UAE start mid-Shaaban (the month preceding Ramadan). This day is known as Hagg Al-Layla. Emirati children dress in their best clothes and go to houses in the neighbouring areas reciting songs and poems. The neighbours welcome them with sweets and nuts, which is collected by children in traditional cloth bags.
There are two main meals in Ramadan: Suhoor and Iftar. Suhoor is consumed early in the morning before sunrise, just before fasting hours start. Iftar is the meal to break the fast. Following the example of the Prophet Muhammad, fasting is broken with dates and laban (buttermilk) throughout the Islamic world.
On the first night of Ramadan, the family gathers at the house of the male head of the family, usually the grandfather, for their first Iftar. In the UAE and the other GCC countries, dates are considered as the 'bread of the desert'. Gars, a bread-like crumble with dates and cardamom, is a popular Emirati sweet dish during Ramadan. Other common dishes are Harees and Threed. Read about where you can eat Emirati food.
Firing the cannon (Midfa Al Iftar) is an integral part of the Islamic culture and takes place in many regions across the country. It can be heard around 8-10 km away. It signals the moment when Muslims can break their fast. This tradition is known to people since the rule of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founder President of the UAE. Children wait for the sound of the big bang. To them, Iftar cannon is the most fun thing that happens during this month, apart from the sweets and other special meals and activities arranged for them. Members of the UAE military carry out this tradition with appropriate safety precautions.
Those who suffer certain barrier such as illness or pregnancy are not obligated to fast as per health professionals' advice. Those who were travelling may fast later. Children are not required to fast until they have reached puberty, although many still do out of choice. In addition to abstaining from eating, drinking and smoking, Muslims also should refrain from sinful speech and behaviour.
In addition to the regular 5 daily prayers, Muslim men and women perform Tarawih prayers daily after Isha prayers in mid-evening. During the last ten days, many devoted Muslims spend the whole day in mosques, praying and reciting the Quran, in anticipation of the Laylat Al Qadr, the night of the first revelation of the Quran. Reciting different chapters each day from the Quran is appreciated throughout the month of Ramadan. Observing Ramadan provides a spiritual experience. It is the time for Muslims to practice self-discipline, sacrifice and empathy for the less fortunate. It encourages generosity and charity.
Events and charitable activities in Ramadan
The UAE hosts many interesting events to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan and the spirit of togetherness, charity and family cohesion that it brings along. Look for various social and cultural events during Ramadan in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Find out more in the events section.
Social and religious events
General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments and other Islamic entities in each emirate conduct a number of religious lectures and sermons at various mosques across the country. Many world-renowned Islamic scholars are invited to enrich this spiritual month.
Dubai International Holy Quran Award hosts an annual holy Quran memorisation contest. The entity also conducts lectures on Islam at various locations across the emirate. There are also the annual Holy Quran recital competitions for students and adults, where the winners earn cash prizes and more.
In addition, several educational and cultural are conducted that educate the public on what the month of Ramadan is all about and how to conduct oneself during this holy month.
Zakat Fund increases its campaigns during Ramadan to support and assist needy families as per its approved projects. The campaigns target:
Awareness of the importance of Zakat among members of the society
Introduction of the fatwa services, calculation of Zakat, and the various Zakat payment channels provided by Zakat Fund.
Ramadan is a time for charity; giving to the less fortunate will be greatly appreciated. It doesn't have to be money, but perhaps food for Iftar. Providing free Iftar meals is a common practice across the UAE. Meals are provided at mosques, malls and other public places.
Red Crescent Authority (RCA) and Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation and other charitable organisations set up tents in various locations in the UAE to offer free Iftar meals. Setting up Ramadan tents is a fundamental practice in the UAE's tradition. It reflects the spirit of giving and sharing with people from different nationalities, social status and financial backgrounds who sit together to break their fast. Tents are usually seen near mosques, in open spaces and at the entrances of some Emiratis' houses. One can experience Emirati hospitality and traditions at these tents.
Many public and private organisations distribute boxes of meals, dates and water at mosques and malls daily shortly before Iftar time. They also provide foodstuff (called Al Mir Al Ramadani) to cater to the poor.
RCA provides Ramadan supplies, distributes Zakat Al Fitr and Eid clothing to deserving families in the UAE and abroad. Individuals, companies and organisations interested in contributing to Red Crescent Society can do so through their counters located at mosques, shopping malls, hospitals and other public places.
You can donate clothes and money through registered charitable organisations by depositing them in designated boxes located at various public places. During Ramadan, many organisations set up tents near co-operative supermarkets for receiving donations.
Non-Muslims do not have to fast in Ramadan. However, they are prohibited from eating, drinking and smoking in public during the fasting hours. This includes chewing gum. Additionally, ensure that you do not:
engage in any aggressive behaviour
dance or play music in public although you may listen to music quietly with headphones
wear inappropriate clothing in public
swear as blasphemy is considered extra offensive during Ramadan
refuse a gift, or an invitation to join someone at Iftar.
Health tips during Ramadan
Here are some health tips for healthy fasting:
Break your fast with dates.
Eat freshly prepared food and eat slowly.
During the night drink enough water and avoid excessive consumption of coffee, sugar and salt.
During Ramadan, many co-operative stores and hypermarkets offer huge discounts on many essential commodities to ease the financial stress on families; some discounts are as much as up to 70 per cent. However, since the demand for essential commodities increases, some retailers take advantage of the situation.
To avoid consumer exploitation and fraud, Ministry of Economy sets a cap on the price of essential commodities during the month. It ensures that wholesalers and retailers maintain enough stock of all essential commodities and undertakes inspection to ensure that retailers don't violate the regulations.
Ramadan impacts working hours for offices and opening hours for restaurants. Paid parking hours are also changed. Find details below.
Working hours are reduced by two hours during Ramadan. Even non-Muslims are entitled to reduced working hours during Ramadan without a pay cut.
Opening hours of restaurants
Most restaurants adhere to the hours of fasting. They are closed during the day and open after the evening prayers. Some restaurants and cafes are open during the day and people are free to order food for delivery or take away or to dine in within enclosures. Booking a table for dinner is recommended in Ramadan. Restaurants will be busy during the evenings.
Opening hours of grocery shops and malls
Supermarkets and grocery shops are open as usual. Mallsstay open until late night.
Hours of paid parking change during Ramadan. Information about the parking timings, fees and modes of payment are indicated on the parking metres by the parking areas. Government transport entities in each emirate can be contacted for more information about the changes in timing and fees during Ramadan. Read about public parking facilities in the UAE.
Fasting and driving behaviour
It is common for fasting Muslims to not get enough sleep during Ramadan. This could lead to sleepiness and impair driving performance. It is advised to get adequate sleep, exercise regularly and eat meals at a fixed time. As a precaution, start your journey early to avoid last minute speeding.
Availability of taxis
You might find it difficult to find a taxi during evenings as a lot of drivers would be breaking their fast. It is better to book a taxi in advance. Read about booking a taxi in the UAE.