Ask Ali: Taking food to iftars is seen as a good manners

Paying visits to your family or friends’ houses during Ramadan is a well-practised tradition.

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Dear Ali: I have been invited to an Emirati house for an iftar. I want to bring some food with me, but the host insisted that nothing is needed. Should people go to iftars empty-handed? PS, Fujairah

Dear PS: Paying visits to your family or friends’ houses during Ramadan is a well-practised tradition. Even if you have never been during the year, expect to receive invitations in Ramadan. You can choose to attend or not, though try to accept invitations if possible. You will be asked what day you can come, so feel free to suggest few options.

In our culture, when someone is invited for iftar the first time during Ramadan, it's nice if they can bring something – food, gifts or whatever – but it’s never mandatory.

You can cook something and bring it with you to the table. I always choose sweets when visiting others. Also, you can take boxes of chocolates, dried fruits with nuts, or other sweets or desserts.

In general, this isn't necessary, though it's considered good manners. If you were visiting a friend’s house, but not for the first time and you're a regular visitor, giving gifts every time isn't required.

Dear Ali: I see that many five-star hotels have installed Ramadan tents. Are they for Muslims only? And what happens there? WP, Dubai

Dear WP: Initially, tents in Ramadan were for bringing together fasting people to share food at iftar (the time to break the fast immediately after sunset) and suhoor (the meal before dawn).

The Ramadan tents that are built near mosques are used for the same reason – to share food with fasting people. Usually, the food is free, and anyone can join iftar. Muslim or non-Muslim – all are welcome.

There are other Ramadan tents organised by companies, but these can be attended only if you have an invitation or work for that organisation.

Ramadan tents at hotels are open to the public, and are more commercialised and dedicated to entertaining people.

Generally, these tents can also be visited by anyone, Muslims and non-Muslims. The tents are always built in Islamic and Arabic traditions. That’s probably why they're popular among Arabs and those who are interested in Arabic and Islamic culture.

Lists of Ramadan tents can be found advertised in the local media. To visit any of the public Ramadan tents, usually a table booking is required. Prices will vary from place to place. Usually, the tents are open from iftar to suhoor.

Unfortunately, sometimes to attract more people, the programmes in some commercial public Ramadan tents are a bit much, with shisha and even clubbing-style music, which contradicts our values. Most people prefer to have a more quiet atmosphere for gatherings during Ramadan.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit to ask him a question.

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