During the month-long Ramadan festival, Muslims fast between sunrise to sundown each day, in line with one of the five pillars of Islam. Denying oneself of sustenance is meant to cleanse the body of impurities and make people aware of the more unfortunate. In 2015 Ramadan takes place from 17th June to 18th July.
It’s generally not advised to relocate to a Muslim country during or just before Ramadan, because efficiency is slowed and the quiet streets and strict regulations can be intimidating. A lack of understanding can cause anxiousness and potential upset, so it’s important that expats and visitors to Muslim countries like Dubai educate themselves.
The basic Ramadan rules for Muslims:
No eating, drinking, smoking or sex between sunrise (fajr) and sunset (maghrib).
Refrain from displays and feelings of anger, greed, envy, lust, and avoid gossip.
Keep thoughts and actions pure and use the time of fasting for spiritual contemplation.
Be charitable and help others in need.
Visit friends and family members.
How expats should respect Ramadan:
While non-Muslims are NOT expected to practice Ramadan, Muslim Middle Eastern countries like Dubai have laws that ban certain behaviours over this time period. Expats should make sure they’re aware of these laws, and even though non-Muslims are only expected to uphold the laws while not in sight of Muslims, it’s best to respect those who are fasting.
It is illegal to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours during Ramadan; this applies while in a car or bus as modes of transport are considered public. Even a swig of water can result in a maximum fine of 2,000dhs or 1 month imprisonment.
All members of society are expected to dress conservatively, and women should make special efforts to limit the amount of make-up worn and cover arms, legs and shoulders.
No music or dancing is allowed during Ramadan. Turn your car stereo down and be sensible if you are playing music in your own home.
Non-Muslim children are not expected participate but they may be asked to eat lunch in a designated area of the school. Schools may also start later and finish earlier. Individual schools will notify parents of changes.
For younger children who attend nursery or play groups you should see no change, though hours may be reduced. You should freely be able to feed a young child when they are hungry and dress them as appropriate for the weather.
Business during Ramadan
Working hours are reduced during Ramadan. The normal workday of 8am to 5pm changes to 8pm to 2pm for most office workers.
Cafes, food courts in malls and restaurants are closed, and hotel beaches and pools also instate the no eating, drinking, and smoking rule. Shops are usually only open in the earliest morning hours and after 4pm, if at all. Most four and five star hotels have curtained areas where foreigners can eat away from the public eye, but these venues can be expensive.
Supermarkets are still open and some takeout stores will deliver. It’s not impossible to eat out during Ramadan, but you should exercise respect. Remember waiting staff and locals you encounter may be tired and weak due to fasting, and be patient.
You can find a useful list of places to eat in Dubai during Ramadan here.
Avoid roads between 4pm and 7pm, when tired drivers as a result of fasting all day will have less concentration. Accidents increase when people are rushing to Iftar (the meal that breaks the fast).
Expats can look forward to huge sales in stores when they open at night, plus festivals when the sun goes down. Despite the restrictions, Ramadan is a great time for open minded expats to immerse themselves in Muslim culture and learn about local traditions.