Ramadan is one of the most important events in the UAE and the rest of the Middle East region. As expats, you have to be aware of this big event because this has a major impact on your employment. Usually, the celebration of Ramadan allows expats to take days off or enjoy shorter working hours.
Also Read: 17 Tips When Visiting UAE For The First Time
If you know anything about this event, you will be aware of the government’s protocol during the commemoration.
Plus, it will help you know more about the culture of Muslims here in the UAE. For those who want to be knowledgeable of Ramadan, continue reading the rest of this article.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is a holy celebration by Muslims. It is the 9th month of the Hijri calendar. It is the most solemn month of the year. Muslims celebrate this by remembering how Prophet Mohammad revealed Quran during the night of Laylat Al Qadr, which accounts for one of the last ten nights of Ramadan.
Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is the time when Muslims are asked to abstain from drinking and eating from dawn to dusk. It is a straight month of praying, charity, blessings, and piety.
How is Ramadan celebrated in the UAE?
If you are an expat whose religion is different from Muslims and this is your first time hearing about Ramadan, you are curious about how it is observed for sure. Let’s get into the step by step process how locals celebrate Ramadan in the UAE.
The start of Ramadan tradition is during mid-Shaaban, which is the month before Ramadan. Muslims call it Hagg Al-Layla. This is the time when children wear their best clothes and knock on their neighbors’ doors while reciting poems and singing songs. In return, the neighbors will give them sweets and nuts and put them in traditional cloth bags brought by these children.
When the first night of Ramadan comes, all family members gather together at the home of the male head of the family for their first Iftar or the meal of breaking the fast. During Iftar, dates are considered the bread of the desert. This is common in the UAE and other GCC countries. You will also discover Gars on the table of Muslims. This is a popular dish with cardamom and dates. Harees and Threed are also present during the meal. The celebration starts with Iftar.
Expats who have Muslim friends can accept hospitality during this celebration. Iftars are held around the UAE and most of the time, residents from different countries celebrate together to receive and share the gift of the spirit of Ramadan. Numerous festivals are being hosted and retail shops offer the best products they have.
Ramadan is a way to educate the public about the cultural activities of Muslims. This is what the whole month is about. There are even students and adults who join Holy Quran recital competitions to win cash prizes.
What are the festivals held during Ramadan?
There are a couple of festivals held during the Ramadan season. These are the activities you should look forward to if you want to be engaged and learn more about Muslims’ culture. Some of the festivals you will discover are Sharjah Ramadan festivals, Ramadan and Eid Festival, Ramadan festivities in Dubai, Ramadan in Dubai, and Bazaar Ramadan Al Ain. You can get updates regarding these festivals on the official website of the UAE.
What are the basic things I should remember during Ramadan?
Ramadan is a solemn celebration but at the same time, people are given the privilege to celebrate together and try fun festivals offered around the UAE. As an expat living and working here in the country, you should be able to identify each step of the celebration so you know when and where to place yourself during the event like this. Here are some of the basic things to remember during Ramadan season:
- Beginning – the basis of Ramadan is the Islamic lunar calendar with 354 days. Compared to the Gregorian calendar, this is 11 days earlier. The announcement of the moon-sighting committee in Makkah, Saudi Arabia marks the first day of Ramadan.
- Makkah, Saudi Arabia – it is important to note that Makkah is considered as the holiest city in Islam. This is where Prophet Mohammad was born and had his revelation of the Quran. The rest of Islam, therefore, follows the announcement of Saudi Arabia.
- Moon-sighting – since Ramadan is based on a lunar calendar, each month represents the phases of the moon and lasts for 29 to 30 days. According to Islam, the beginning of each month is based on moon-sighting. Therefore, Ramadan begins during the first sighting of the new crescent moon which takes 30 days.
- Length – the duration of Ramadan can last for 29 to 30 days depending on the moon-sighting.
- Greetings – “Ramadan Kareem” is a common greeting during Ramadan. This means “Happy Ramadan.”
- Observation – during Ramadan, there are a lot of observations done. Adults who can do fasting are requested to do so from dawn until dusk. Other adults who have illnesses or pregnant are not required to do so. Travelers may fast on different days. Children who haven’t reached puberty yet are not required to fast as well. Muslims are also prohibited to refrain from misbehaving and cursing. 5 prayers daily are done and Muslim men and women perform Tarawih prayers every day after Isha prayers in mid-evening. The last ten days of the celebration may be done in mosques while praying and reciting the Quran.
- Fasting – this is done by Muslims because they believed that this is one of the five pillars of Islam. The purpose of fasting is to clean the sole and free it from any impurities. This is a way to discipline, empathize, and sacrifice.
- End of fasting – Muslims can break their fasting at sunset upon Maghrib call for prayers or also known as Azaan. They break their fasting with dates and buttermilk.
- Meals – Iftar and Suhoor are the two main meals during Ramadan. Iftar is the fast-breaking meal while Suhoor is the meal consumed every morning before fasting.
What are the changes during Ramadan?
Expats should know that there are changes during Ramadan in the UAE. Everything is adjusted during this celebration since this is a major event of Islam. Expats, government, and the private sectors comply with the adjustments to make a way for a month of solemn celebration. Here are some of the changes you should be aware of.
- Working hours – Working hours are reduced by 2 hours. This is applicable to non-Muslims.
- Restaurants – to comply with the adjustments, most restaurants are closed during the day and open during the night after evening prayers. Booking for a table for dinner is allowed during Ramadan. There are also cafes and other restaurants that offer take out services so people can consume their food privately.
- Groceries – grocery stores are business as usual.
- Driving – driving is quite dangerous at times like this since Ramadan reduces the sleeping hours of those who celebrate. People are advised to get enough sleep to avoid dangerous driving.
- Taxis – taxis may not be available during the evening because drivers will break their fast too. It is advised to book taxis in advance.
- Parking – parking time, fees, and payments may adjust during Ramadan. You should ask the information desk about this.
- Malls – like grocery stores, malls are business as usual.
Other things to consider during Ramadan
- Iftar Cannon – if you hear a firing cannon 8-10 kilometers away from you, this is normal. This is not some kind of danger or threat as this only signals the time when Muslims can break their fasting. For children, this is “Big Bang” and they cover their ears when they hear it.
- Ramadan tents – you will see Ramadan tents throughout the country. This is set up for organizations, religions, families, and communities so they can gather together and break their fast. There are also times that the Red Crescent Authority (RCA) and the foundation of Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan combine forces to build tents to offer free Iftar meals to particular communities. Tents are often placed near mosques and open spaces.
- Social and religious lectures – during fasting and prayers, there are social and religious lectures conducted for the benefit of everyone in the country. There are places that conduct contests and give out large cash prizes too.
- Fasting for non-Muslims – if you are an expat and you are not a Muslim, fasting is not required. But, you are not allowed to eat, drink, smoke, and chew gums during fasting hours. You can take your meals home and consume them privately.
- Misbehavior – misbehavior is totally banned. You should show proper behavior at all times, play music with low volume, dress moderately, and accept Iftar offers.
- Health – when breaking fasting, consider eating healthy food so you can avoid getting ill afterward. Eat dates and consume food slowly. Also, drink enough water during the night and don’t rely on coffee, salt, and sugar. Moderate physical activities should be done as well.
- Charities – charitable activities are also done during Ramadan. People who are capable to give gather together to collate enough food and other resources that they give to poor families. Food and meals are given to needy and this is done normally in mosques, public places, and malls. Ramadan is considered as the season of giving. Even if you are not a Muslim, you can still donate money and clothes to give out to poor families. You can do this by yourself or you can coordinate with charitable organizations.
- Consumer protection – there are times that retailers take advantage of the celebration. Since the demand for commodities increase, sellers abuse the capabilities of the buyers to buy food. The Ministry of Economy observes this strictly. If you know someone who is abusing the prices, you can report it to the authorities.
- Beggars – during Ramadan, beggars are not allowed. They can receive punishments and fines. You can report them to the authorities especially if you think that they are not good during the celebration of Ramadan. By reporting them, you are helping the country adhere to the “Fight Begging” campaign.
What should expats do during Ramadan?
We all know that Muslims have their own responsibilities to do during Ramadan and since you are already living and working in an Islamic country, you are already part of the celebration. Even if you can’t join the prayer meetings and fast, there are still ways you can show your respect to the country and to your Muslim friends. Here are some of the tips on how you can show respect during Ramadan.
- Interact with your friends and neighbors in the community. You should make the most out of Ramadan spirit at this point.
- Give something to the poor and needy. Even if it’s just food or old clothes, they will surely remember you for doing such a kind deed.
- Make reservations if you are going to eat out especially during at night when the restaurants and diners are full.
- Avoid driving during the breaking of fasting since a lot of Muslims are rushing to break their fast.
- Know your office hours and shortened time at work.
- Greet your Muslim friends with “Ramadan Kareem” greeting.
- If you are going to eat, drink, smoke, or chew gums, do it privately.
- Dress moderately especially if you are going out.
- Avoid playing loud music to prevent distractions to those who pray and fast.
If you have been in the UAE for years now, you are surely aware of the few things set out above. Every year, Ramadan is celebrated. This means that you need to prepare yourself annually too if you are planning to work and live there for a longer period of time. Ramadan is one way you can be aware of the culture and traditions of Muslims. Take this time to enjoy the moment and don’t forget to build a good relationship with your Muslim and non-Muslim friends.