Ramadan in the UAE

The country's official religion is Islam, so the whole country is turned upside down when comes the period of Ramadan. There is no obvious difference between Ramadan in Abu Dhabi and the Ramadan in Dubai. Information given below is true for all the UAE.

Meaning of Ramadan

Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, so it is an essential step in the spiritual life of every Muslim.

Basically, Ramadan is a time of challenges and fasting during which Muslims should be more turned to Allah, their spiritual life and others. Being free from eating and from the worries and tasks of every day life during the day, they have to use that time to pray and thus be closer to Allah.

Ramadan for Muslims in the UAE

Specifically, during the month of Ramadan, Muslims:
  • are prohibited from eating, drinking, smoking, or have sex between sunrise and sunset,
  • should be oriented more towards others, especially the poor and the needy,
  • need to be more turned to God, and are encouraged to read the Koran.
Some people are exempt from Ramadan, such as young children, pregnant women, the elderly or the persons for which the fast of Ramadan (or Sawm) would be dangerous to their health.
It is possible for some people that can temporarily not fast to "catch up" Ramadan by doing it later. This is the case for some athletes, when Ramadan is at the same period as important events.

In the evening, after the call to prayer of the muezzin, at sunset, is the Iftar, or time to break the fast. This meal is a nice moment that Muslims often share with family or friends, or even with non-Muslims. In the UAE, large tents in the streets or near mosques distribute free meals to those in need.
Originally frugal and lightweight, the Iftar meal is now often very rich, fat and sweet. Since they are more meals at night, many Muslims significantly gain weight during Ramadan.

Impacts of Ramadan for non-Muslims in the UAE

These changes have important implications for expatriates in the UAE, both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Work schedules are arranged during Ramadan, which impacts everyone in the UAE. In general, theworking day is 2 hours shorter than usual during the Ramadan month. Muslims take advantage of free time in the afternoon for a nap. Indeed, they stay up really late into the night to avoid getting too hungry during the day, so they are often very tired during the day.

This fatigue also leads to behavioral change. Some Muslims are more irritable during Ramadan, many are less productive at work, causing a considerable slowdown of economic activity.
They are also less vigilant on the roads and drive less carefully, especially near the Iftar. Number of road accidents increases significantly during the month of Ramadan.

Rules to observe during Ramadan in the UAE

For everybody in the UAE, during Ramadan, it is strictly forbidden:
  • eating in public places between sunset and sunrise, even chewing gum (subject to one month in prison)
  • to drink (even water) or smoking in public places between sunset and sunrise
  • to drink alcohol during the day, even in a hotel bar (this rule tends to change in some areas of Dubai)
  • leastening to loud music other than religious in a public place.
At home, you remain free to do what you want, as long as it does not interfere with religious practices of Muslims.

Because of the prohibition of eating in public places during the day, almost all restaurants are closed for lunch.

The ban on playing music other than religious (some exceptions are infrequent and tolerated after sunset) in public places often leads to the closure of bars and nightclubs throughout the month of Ramadan. However, in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, it is possible to find bars open (generally without music, though).

For more general information, read the article on how to behave in the UAE.

Dates of Ramadan in the UAE

Ramadan is not a fixed date according to the European calendar. Its start and end are based on lunar cycles, moving of about 10 days each year.

The exact dates of beginning and end of Ramadan are not known in advance, which usually fairly irritates Westerners. Indeed, it exists in every Muslim country a Moon Sighting Comittee, deciding whether Ramadan starts or finishes. Thus in 2010, Ramadan began on August 10 in all Muslim countries, but on August 11 in Oman, where the Committee had not seen the moon.

Although the dates of Ramadan are not precisely known in advance, some estimates based on astronomical predictions are known, and can give an idea;
  • Ramadan 2010: August 11th to September 9th
  • Ramadan 2011: August 1st to August 29th
  • Ramadan 2012: July 20th to August 18th
  • Ramadan 2013: July 9th to August 7th
  • Ramadan 2014: June 28th to July 27th

End of Ramadan: Eid el Fitr

Ramadan ends with Eid el Fitr, a great religious festival, where each company normally give between 1 and 4 public holidays to their employees. This family celebration for Muslims is usually an opportunity to leave the country for non-Muslims, resulting in a large influx of passengers at airports and borders. Among the preferred destinations, the Sultanate of Oman generally sees all hotels booked months in advance for the Eid.