Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, and is a period of religious significance for Muslims who observe daytime fasting, worship and spiritual contemplation. Ramadan is regarded as the holiest month in the Islam calendar because Muslims believe that the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed during the month of Ramadan on the night of Laylat al Qadr, one of the last ten nights of Ramadan.
On the first day of Ramadan, one greets others with the congratulatory greetings of "Ramadan Mubarak" and "Ramadan Kareem". The fasting starts with Suhoor, a meal in the morning just before sunrise which is usually a light meal. The fasting ends with Iftar which is the evening meal just after sunset–traditionally a light snack of dates and water. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are supposed to refrain from certain acts of everyday life such as:
- No eating, drinking, smoking or sex between sunrise (fajr) and sunset (maghrib).
- Curb undesirable emotions such as anger, greed, envy, lust, and refrain from gossip.
- Keep thoughts and actions pure and use the time of fasting for spiritual contemplation.
- Be charitable and help those in need.
- Visit friends and family members.
Children are not expected to fast until puberty. Other exemptions include pregnant or nursing mothers, menstruating women, very elderly and chronically ill people. If a Muslim is travelling they are also exempt from fasting for the period of travel if it is over 14 miles in one day.
Ramadan events and activities in Dubai
In Dubai, it is a practice to fire cannon to announce the breaking of the fast for the day. There is one in the car park at Gate 4 of Safa Park in Jumeirah. After breaking the fast traditionally with a few dates and some water, it becomes more festive with larger meals enjoyed amongst friends and family.
Mosques offer free Iftar meals to the less privileged members of society, whether they are Muslim or not. The meals might be sponsored by charities, companies, or individuals. Many hotels will have special Iftar tents where customers can have a simple or more complex meal – with a range of prices to match.
The rulers in various emirates pardon a number of prison inmates on the first day of Ramadan. Some are also released for the month of Ramadan to spend time with their family.
Life in Dubai turns almost upside down as in the day light hours there is little or no activity but the city comes alive at the night. During the month of Ramadan, most businesses and government offices will close for the day sometime between 14:00 and 16:00 hrs. Iftar is at sunset, around 17:30-19:00 depending on the time of year. Some government departments will reopen in the evenings for 2-4 hours between 20:00 and midnight. Business activities tend to slow down during Ramadan which may lead to delays with any commercial or bureaucratic activities.
Companies are required by law to reduce working time by 2 hours per day for all employees, not only Muslims. If employees work longer hours, they should receive overtime pay.
Almost all restaurants and cafes will be closed during the day but many will extend their opening hours at night. There might be a few eating outlets open during the day for dine-in customers in larger hotels and shopping centers. Some fast food restaurants allow drive-through or take-outs.
The Dubai supermarkets are normally open during the day and have extended hours at night – sometimes till midnight or even later. Shopping centers are open during the day and for an extra hour or two at night with the closing times as late as midnight. Most high end hotels will have room service and possibly one or two outlets open during the day, but alcohol will not be served until after Iftar. The Dubai Mall has an upstairs food court where you can eat your takeaways. Food courts will be closed during the day, except in some of the Dubai free zones and at Dubai International Airport. Parks and other public places open after the breaking of fast and remain open until late at night.
It is illegal to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours (including in your car). It is to be noted that if you get caught doing so in the month of Ramadan, you can end up in jail. But most likely, you will be let off with a warning and a fine. The law says a fine would be up to 2000 / 2500 dhs or up to 1 or 2 month jail sentence. During Ramadan it is best to dress in a respectful and polite manner which means that your shoulders and legs should be covered.
Entertainment during Ramadan
Live and loud music and dancing is banned during Ramadan, so most nightclubs in Dubai will be closed. But bars in Dubai are usually open, but patrons might be asked for their religion and Muslims would be refused entry. Any alcohol related offences will be treated much more severely during Ramadan and the offender can be stuck in prison until the end of Ramadan.
Car stereos should be turned down with loud music, especially rock or similar music seen as disrespectful. It is interesting to note that traffic jam times too change during Ramadan. The morning is not much different but afternoons from 13:00-16:00 are quite busy with people trying to get to their desired location for Iftar. For an hour just after Iftar, and from 1600 to an hour before Iftar, the roads are relatively traffic-free.
The Dubai Ramadan period is one of festivities and joy. All over Dubai during the Ramadan you can find large Ramadan tents known as Majlis and Jaimas which fill up with people once the Iftar fest starts each evening. You will find not only Muslims in these special Dubai Ramadan tents as people from all nationalities and all religions are invited to join the special festivities. People attending the Iftar fests in these special Ramadan tents will be able to sample a large number of popular Arabic dishes and a drag or two on the famous Shisha.
Several large air-conditioned Arabic tents are set up by all the major hotels of Dubai on the famous Dubai beaches or at the rooftops which give visitors an insight of the rich Arabic culture with its Persian carpets, colored-glass lanterns, glowing palm trees and Arabic folk music. The food includes harees, falafel, matchbous, and balaleet and Arabic drinks such as Salep (a milky drink flavoured with nuts and cinnamon) or Jallab, (date juice with pine nuts, raisins and rose) The beaches stay open. Water sports facilities, health and leisure centers have normal operating hours.
Tourism during Ramadan
Ramadan is an off season tourist time in Muslim countries and is one of the best occasions for planning luxury holidays to Dubai. Besides the increased chances of getting tickets for Dubai flights, many airlines, especially with origins in the UAE or those operating number of flights into UAE, dole out special discounts and facilities for their customers during this time. These combined with the factor that major hotels offer various discounts during this time, makes Ramadan a good time to visit Dubai.