|The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is known as “Ramadan” and is a time of fasting and prayer throughout the Islamic world, including in the United Arab Emirates.
This month-long fast is done to commemorate what, according to Muslims, was the first Quranic revelation to Muhammad, and its observance is one of the Five Pillars of Islam- a list of the great deeds every Muslim ought do in his life to secure salvation.
The month of Ramadan lasts 29 or 30 days, depending on the year, and its beginning date is based on local moon sightings, making it always somewhat uncertain when it will begin. During Ramadan, Muslims are not allowed to eat, drink, smoke, or have sexual relations from sunrise to sunset. Muslims are supposed to focus on Allah, read their Korans, and give to the poor more than usual during this month as well. Some are exempt, however, from “the rules,” including young children, pregnant women, seniors, and those with serious health conditions. An athlete in intense training can also be exempted, but he would be expected to fast later to make up for missing Ramadan.
The “Iftar” is the time of breaking the fast, and it occurs right after the evening call to prayer. Since people fast all day, family and friends eat late-night meals during Ramadan. Non-Muslims can sometimes participate in these meals, and there will often be big street tents near mosques where free food is given out to the needy during Ramadan. While Ramadan’s nighttime meals were originally small and basic, in the UAE, they have become large, rich, and sweet in recent years. In fact, many UAE Muslims actually put on weight during Ramadan.
In the UAE, work days are usually shortened by two hours during Ramadan, and many use this extra time for an afternoon nap. Many also stay up through most of the night and become extremely fatigued during daylight hours. Unfortunately, this tiredness tends to cause some to become more irritable, less productive at their job, and less careful while driving. Thus, there is a downturn economically and a upsurge in traffic accidents during Ramadan in the UAE.
Even non-Muslims need to avoid certain activities during Ramadan in the UAE, including:
- Eating in public between sunrise and sunset
- Chewing gum
- Drinking water or smoking in public
- Drinking, even at a bar, though in Dubai, there are exceptions
- Listening to loud music, unless it is Islamic religious music
In the UAE, no one will mind what you do at home during Ramadan, but in public, the holiday is “enforced.”
Most restaurants and bars close down during the day during Ramadan since they are not allowed to serve food until night arrives. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, however, there are a few bars that one can still find open, though devoid of all music.
During the final 10 days of Ramadan, prayer exercises intensify, and many spend all the night in prayer. Finally, at the very end of the month, a large festival called “Eid El Fitr” occurs. Businesses typically let their employees of between one and four days at this time to attend the festival and to recover from the long fast.
Being in the UAE during the Ramadan month offers a unique look into how Muslims celebrate their highest and holiest month. While many businesses will be closed during the day, others are still open, and there is much to do.