Sunday, 20 July 2014

Ramadan in the UAE



As you may, or may not, know, it's Ramadan at the moment. Ramadan is the Islamic holy month where Muslims are required to fast, reflect, spend time with family and give to charity and help others. It is one of the five pillars of Islam that Muslims are required to observe. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and it officially begins when the crescent moon can be seen the naked eye.

So, what does Ramadan mean if you live in the UAE (and much of the Arab world), especially if you are an expat like myself? The first big thing is that Muslims are require to fast during daylight hours - so from sunrise until sunset they can not eat, drink or smoke.

In the UAE, it is illegal to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours, so restaurants, cafes and food outlets are closed. There are a small handful of restaurants in Dubai that have been given permission to serve food to non-Muslims, but these restaurants must put up heavy curtains so passers-by can't see in. There are still a few food outlets that will serve food and drinks for takeaway and offer delivery as well.

Most offices and work places will allocate a room where non-Muslims can consume food and drink. Fasting workers (and some non-fasting workers) work shorter hours during Ramadan, usually from 8am-2pm.

Music is generally not allowed during Ramadan and shops and restaurants are not allowed to play loud music. Dubai at present is quite literally very quiet. The nightclubs are shut and the malls are quiet. There are also very few people out and about. People go about their normal day but then spend time with family and friends.

The evenings are a different story. As the sun sets, the streets are empty as people go to prayer and then get ready to break the fast. The breaking of the fast is known as Iftar and it's tradition to break the fast with dates, as Muhammad did. Muslims gather with their friends and family to celebrate this special meal and non-Muslims also partake as the restaurants and hotels offer special Iftar buffets, even fast food outlets offer special Iftar meals. Iftars are a lively celebration. The meal before the sunrise is known as Suhoor.

It is very hot in Dubai at the moment (in the low to mid-40s), it's the long summer school holidays and with the restrictions of Ramadan many expats flee Dubai for their home country. For me, I wanted to experience Ramadan in Dubai. We arrived in Dubai for the last couple of days of Ramadan, but I wanted to experience while living here while it was happening. Yes, it can be a little tricky with the kids and trying to entertain them and yes, the city is extremely quiet. This can also nice. There is definitely a different feel in the city and it's nice to be a part of. Hearing the longer calls to prayer and the Quran readings in the evening. It reinforces the feeling that we live in the Middle East, which can be easy to forget at times.

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