During ramadan, Muslims do not eat, drink, smoke or have sex during sunrise to sunset. It is called fasting and is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, along with the declaration of faith, prayer, charity and Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Fasting varies around the world between 10 and 21 hours each day.
The fasting is broken daily with Iftar, traditionally with dates and milk.
At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr - festival of breaking the fast.
So what does this mean for Non Muslims, those who live here or visit during Ramadan?
- Life is much slower and quieter, with reduced working hours and restrictions on working outdoors. It is also a cheaper time to visit the UAE with discounted hotel rates, especially when Ramadan falls in the summer, to encourage tourists to visit at this time of year. Many Non Muslims will actually leave Dubai during the summer as the heat can become unbearable.
- All the malls are open during Ramadan, but you will find it difficult to get a taxi between 2pm and sunset as working hours are reduced, people are heading home to be with their families before breaking their fast. Restaurants will be very busy around sunset with people queuing for an hour or so for a table, so it's best to wait till around 8pm to eat out in the evenings.
- Eating, drinking, chewing gum and smoking in public is forbidden during Ramadan. That includes in your car. But you can do all the above in the privacy of your own home and if you are a guest in a hotel, you will be able to eat and drink in the restaurants. Until last year, alcohol was banned from sale until 7pm, after Iftar, but now you can purchase it in hotel bars during the day.
- There are many restaurants also open during the day, but check ahead. The majority of coffee shops are open, but only available for take outs, as a result queuing times to use public toilets will be longer as many non muslims will drink their coffee in a toilet cubicle.
- The food halls in the malls will open from 12pm to serve food as usual, but they are screened off from public view, you can enter before 12pm but you will not be allowed to purchase or consume food before that time, including take aways.
- Music is banned from public places, but that doesn't stop you from taking part in ladies nights and other events, although time tables and availability are limited from place to place, check with your hotel.
- It is expected that you dress appropriately during Ramadan and many places will deny you access if you have bare shoulders or clothing above the knees. Carry a pashmina when you go out to avoid unwelcome looks.
Fasting during day light hours really does mean 'not even a sip of water' if you are ill, pregnant or elderly, you are exempt from fasting as are children. So if your child requires feeding, a drink, carry on as normal. All the supermarkets are open during the day to purchase food and drink from, you just can't consume it in public unless you fall into one of the categories mentioned above.
People in Dubai are very helpful and polite, so if you are unsure, just ask at your hotel and with security when you go out.
I will be in Dubai most of Ramadan this year, I won't be going out much due to the heat, but at least this year I have a car and I'm not working.
The terms Ramadan Mubarak or Ramadan Kareem mean generosity, giving and blessings. you will find the malls and shops highly decorated during this period and Eid is usually marked with fireworks and other celebrations.