Whether you’re visiting the UAE for a meeting or this is your first Ramadan as a resident, The Holy Month offers a new experience. Here are some suggestions to help you make the best of your time.
By law, able bodied adults are not allowed to eat or drink in public places between sunrise and sunset. This also applies to smoking, chewing gum, and taking medicine. If you are not sure when these times of the day occur specifically do not worry; morning and evening prayers are announced from all mosques and daily newspapers include a prayer time guide. Generally the morning prayer is ‘called’ between 4:00-4:30am, and the evening prayer between 6:40-7:15pm.
There is no requirement for you to fast during Ramadan if you are not of the Islamic faith and you will find some restaurants and coffee shops open, however, an open F&B outlet will have curtained windows or a barricade of some sort so as not to display patrons to those fasting. The purpose of the fast is to remember those less fortunate and breaking the fast publicly during daylight hours is considered extremely inconsiderate, and is illegal.
The fast is traditionally broken with dates, and you will see these offered more in shops, cafes and as gifts during Ramadan.
Iftar, the meal eaten after the evening prayer (Maghrib), is a family occasion. You may receive two different types of invitation, one from a person and one from a corporate entity. Businesses often host corporate Iftar events and whilst they have become something of a networking tool in recent years, the concept of family is still applicable. A corporate Iftar is akin to a client Christmas dinner in so much as the hosting party will want to welcome you on an informal level. That said, those at the event who have been fasting have chosen to break their fast with you, so even though the event is corporate it is still a personal occasion to some degree.
If you receive an invitation to a family Iftar you should try your best to attend. This is because each Iftar meal represents a step of the Ramadan journey; the fast is not merely a rule to be followed but is a test of spirit. An invitation to a family Iftar is not a common occurrence and receiving one shows you are held in high regard. Your instinct may be to politely refuse food as your hosts are hungry, however, the point is to break the fast with your host (that is what the invitation is for), and so even if you had a big lunch you should make room for something extra. In the UAE it is considered rude to refuse food when offered, during Ramadan even more so.
Iftar can be an eye opening experience into the meaning of Ramadan for many non-Muslims, and even if you are not invited to one, many hotels host them throughout the month, and are open to all.
Shopping and Driving
Almost every aspect of life changes during Ramadan and the most apparent is that of traffic. The UAE government staggers public sector working hours in an effort to stave off traffic jams. But, during Ramadan, private and public offices close at similar times. Rush hour patterns change, and usually quiet routes can become busy. Many of those fasting will be keen to get home as soon as possible to be with their family before the maghrib prayer. The key to Ramadan traffic is patience and listening to the radio for any traffic hotspots.
Just as the roads get busy, so do supermarkets. Ramadan is a season of giving and this is most apparent in terms of food. Shopping on a Friday morning during Ramadan is not the easiest of experiences as queues are long and car parks are full. Most supermarkets open with extended hours so finding a pint of milk at 1:00am is not a challenge during Ramadan. It is important to remember however that those doughnuts you brought for the car journey home, need to be eaten at home and not in the car.
Of course, with every negative there is a positive. The UAE’s roads are empty between 4:00-8:00pm. Supermarket queues are not existent between 6:30-7:30pm. Fasting or otherwise, working hours are shorter. And, generally, the UAE is filled with a feeling of goodwill and tolerance.
Ramadan is often misunderstood as a month of sacrifice but is actually the opposite. Charitable donations increase as one of the pillars of Islam, Zakat, mandates a certain amount of earnings are donated to the less fortunate. Shopping malls host collection drives and encourage donations from everything from clothing to books, bottled water to toys, spectacles, shoes, and more. Mosques give free meals at Maghrib with The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi serving more than 200,000 free meals during the month of Ramadan.
Not eating or drinking during daylight hours is no mean feat, especially for an entire month. But fasting is just one element of Ramadan and if this is your first, we encourage you to ask questions.
Ramadan Kareem from the BCB.