What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Hijri 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 (PBUH) on the night of Laylat Al Qadr, one of the last ten nights of Ramadan.
The annual observance of Ramadan is considered one of the five pillars of Islam.
During Ramadan, capable Muslims are required to abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk.
Ramadan is a significant month in the Islamic calendar and in the UAE. It is the month of piety, charity and blessings.
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.
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 (meal of breaking the fast).
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.
One can experience Emirati hospitality and traditions during this month as Iftars are hosted throughout the UAE and residents of different nationalities come together to share the spirit of Ramadan. A host of Ramadan-related activities marks the period. Numerous events are organised across the UAE during the month and the retail sector sees brisk business.
In addition, Ramadan witnesses a number of educational cultural activities that aim to educate the public on what the month of Ramadan is all about and how to conduct oneself during this holy month.
There is the annual Holy Quran recital competitions for students and adults where the winners earn cash prizes and more. Find out more in the events section.
What you need to know about Ramadan
The beginning of Ramadan
Ramadan arrives as per the Islamic lunar calendar, which has 354 days. Hence, it arrives 11 days earlier in every subsequent year of the Gregorian calendar.
The UAE follows an official announcement about the first day of Ramadan from a moon-sighting committee in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.
Why Saudi Arabia?
Makkah is considered the holiest city in the Islamic world. It is the birthplace of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and also the location where the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) had his first revelation of the Quran. Because of this, the rest of the Islamic world follow Saudi Arabia's announcement.
Why Ramadan is based on the moon sighting?
The Islamic calendar is lunar-based; each month corresponds to the phases of the moon and lasts either 29 or 30 days.
The beginning of an Islamic month is determined by looking at the night sky and visibly sighting the slight crescent moon (hilal) that marks the beginning of the next month.
Ramadan begins at the first sighting of the new crescent moon. Effectively the 30-day period is the entire moon cycle.
Duration of Ramadan
Ramadan lasts for one complete moon cycle, which is usually 29 or 30 days. The moon sighting determines the duration.
Common greeting in Ramadan
People greet each other by saying 'Ramadan Kareem', which means 'Happy Ramadan'.
Adult capable Muslims are required to fast from dawn until dusk every day throughout Ramadan.
Those who suffer certain barrier such as illness and pregnancy are not obligated to fast as per health professionals' advice.
Those who were travelling may fast on different days at a later point.
Children are not required to fast unless 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 holy month of Ramadan.
During the last ten days, many devoted Muslims spend the whole day in mosques, praying and reciting the Qur'an, in anticipation of the Laylat Al Qadr, the night of the first revelation of the Holy Qur'an. Reciting different chapters each day from the Quran is appreciated though out the month of Ramadan.
The purpose of fasting
To Muslims, fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is something spiritual that aims to clean the soul by freeing it from impurities.
Ramadan is also a time for Muslims to practice self-discipline, sacrifice and empathy for those less fortunate. It encourages generosity and charity.
When do Muslims break their fast?
Fasting may be broken at sunset upon Maghrib call for prayers (Azaan). This occurs just after sunset.
How do Muslims break their fast?
Following the example of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, the fasting is broken with dates and laban (buttermilk) throughout the Islamic world.
Meals in Ramadan
There are two main meals in Ramadan; the fast breaking meal is called Iftar. Traditionally, Muslims break their fast by eating dates and drinking water.
The second meal is called Suhoor, which is consumed early in the morning before fasting.
Changes during Ramadan in the UAE
To make Ramadan an easier experience, certain norms change during the month. They are as follows:
According to Federal Law No. 8 of 1980 regarding Labour Law and its amendments, 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 close business during the day and open after the evening prayers. Some might offer food within enclosures.
Some restaurants and cafes are open during the day and people are free to order food for take it away to consume in private.
Booking a table for dinner is recommended in Ramadan. Restaurants will busy during the evenings.
Opening hours of groceries
Supermarkets and groceries will be open as usual. People can do their shopping as they would otherwise.
Fasting and driving behaviour
Reduction in sleep time during Ramadan slightly increases the feeling of sleepiness, which can cause can cause impaired driving performance, irritability and daytime drowsiness.
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
Booking a taxi for evenings may not be easy as a lot of drivers would be breaking their fast. It is advised to book in advance.
To book a taxi call:
- 600-535-353 in Abu Dhabi
- 04-2080808 in Dubai
- 600525252 in Sharjah or book online.
Hours of paid parking change during Ramadan. Information about the parking timings, fees and modes of payment are indicated on the parking metres in the designated areas.
Government transport entities in each emirate can be contacted for more information about the changes in timing and fees during Ramadan.
Opening hours of malls
Malls remain generally open during the day and stay open later than usual.
Ramadan traditions in the UAE
Iftar Cannon (Midfa Al Iftar)
Firing the cannon is an integral part of the Islamic culture in the UAE 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 and once fired. This tradition is known to people since the rule of the UAE's founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed.
Children in particular wait for the sound of the 'big bang'. They clap their ears in advance waiting in anticipation. 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.
Common features of Ramadan
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.
As the holy month approaches, many individuals as well as organisations in the country erect Ramadan tents that become an active hub for various religious and social activities throughout the holy month. Red Crescent Authority (RCA) and Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation set up tents in various locations in the UAE to offer free Iftar meals.
Tents are usually seen near mosques, in open spaces and at the entrances of some Emiratis' houses.
Social and religious lectures
In addition to charitable activities, Ramadan in the UAE features a series of lectures, where General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments and other Islamic entities in each emirate conduct a number of lectures and sermons on fasting at various mosques across the country.
Dubai International Holy Quran Award hosts an annual holy Quran memorisation contest. They also conduct lectures on Islam at various locations across the emirate.
Many world-renowned Islamic scholars are invited to enrich this spiritual month. The events of the festival are held from the first until the 20th of Ramadan each year.
Zakat Fund increases its campaigns during Ramadan to raise awareness about Zakat. It collects Zakat and distributes it appropriately among the needy families, widows and poor students.
Ramadan etiquette for non-Muslims
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.
Non-Muslims are free to eat and drink in the privacy of their own home, as well as in designated areas.
Additional things to consider:
Please 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
One needs to break the fast with care to avoid ill effects on health. After long hours of fasting, make sure you eat freshly prepared food. In addition, break your fast with dates and eat slowly.
During the night drink enough water and avoid excessive consumption of coffee, sugar and salt. Do not exert yourself physically when fasting. Maintain a moderate level of physical activities.
Charitable activities in Ramadan
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. The UAE Government entities organise many charitable programmes and activates across the UAE. Some of them are:
Providing foodstuff and meals to the needy
Providing free Iftar meals is a common practice across the UAE. Meals are provided at mosques, malls and other public places. 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.
Red Crescent Authority Charity (RCA) runs its seasonal Ramadan charity campaign across the UAE. It provides Ramadan supplies, free Iftar meals, 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.
Donating money and clothes
Ramadan is the month of giving. You can donate clothes and money through registered charitable organisations. You can denote the clothes and money by depositing them in boxes located in public places. During Ramadan, many organisations set up tents near co-operative supermarkets for receiving donations.
Raising funds can be done only after obtaining the approval of General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments or Islamic Affairs & Charitable Activities Department. After obtaining the approval, the initiative must be in co-operation with licensed charity associations.
Consumer protection in Ramadan
During Ramadan, the demand on commodities increases and some retailers take advantage of the situation. To avoid consumer exploitation and fraud, Ministry of Economy has set a price cap on essential commodities during the month with a strong message to retailers to trade in fair practices. The regulations also ensure that stockpiles of all essential commodities are maintained.
In addition to the price cap, the cooperative markets offer huge discounts on many essential commodities, up to 70 per cent on some to ease the budgetary stress on families during the month.
The ministry also undertakes inspection during this period to ensure that retailers don't violate the regulations.
Ministry of Economy is keen to communicate with consumers and receives complaints, suggestions and feedback through its Consumer Protection Call Centre. You can contact the ministry on 600-522-225.
Read more about consumer rights and consumer protection.
Begging for alms is a crime. The fasting month of Ramadan historically records an influx of people arriving into the country as part of an elaborate con to raise funds, stated the UAE's Ministry of Interior.
The 'Fight Begging' campaign is initiated by MOI and aims at combating this uncivil phenomenon, and raise security awareness amongst members of the public on the risks of sympathising with beggars. Read about what to do if you come across a beggar in the UAE.
Beggars are liable to fine and/or deportation as decided by the courts. You can report beggars in:
- Abu Dhabi on 999 or 8002626 (Aman Service)
- Dubai on 800243
- Sharjah on 065632222
- Ras Al Khaimah on 072053372
- Ajman on 067034310
- Umm Al Quwain on 999
- Fujairah on 092051100 or 092224411
Updated on 21 Mar 2019