In the UAE, some safety restrictions remain but outdoor mask mandates have lifted and businesses are almost back to full capacity, allowing for some Ramadan traditions to return, including iftar tents.
As the country enters its recovery phase, what can we expect from this year's holy month? The National explains.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic — or Hijri — calendar. It is also believed to be the month the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.
Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day of the month, which is typically 29 or 30 days.
As well as abstaining from food and drink, Ramadan is also a time when Muslims strengthen their faith through prayer and increased recitation of the Quran.
Piety increases further during the final 10 days, when Laylat Al Qadr is believed to fall. That night is believed to be when the Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammed. It is traditionally celebrated on the 27th night of Ramadan but its exact date is unknown. The rewards for acts of worship carried out on this night are said to be more than the rewards of 1,000 months of worship.
When did Ramadan begin and how was its start determined?
Ramadan began in the UAE on Saturday, April 2, it was announced on Friday.
The UAE's moon-sighting committee met at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department (ADJD) and confirmed the presence of the crescent moon, state news agency Wam reported.
Saudi Arabia also said it had spotted the crescent moon after the maghrib prayer on Friday, heralding the start of the holy month on Saturday there as well.
The exact date of Ramadan can only be determined a night or two before the holy month begins because the Hijri calendar is based on moon cycles.
Each Hijri month can either be 29 or 30 days long, which affects when Ramadan falls.
The moon-sighting committee — a group of astronomers, court officials and advisers from the country's Islamic authority — typically convenes after maghrib, or sunset, prayers on the 29th day of Sha’ban, the Islamic month before Ramadan, to look for the new crescent moon. If they spot it, Ramadan begins the following day. If not, Sha'ban will last 30 days and Ramadan will begin after.
The process is repeated again to mark the end of the holy month and the first day of Shawwal, the 10th month. Searching for the new crescent can be difficult, because it is usually faint and is only seen for about 20 minutes. The committee relies on telescopes to find the crescent moon, then confirm it with the naked eye.
Last year, the moon-sighting committee met remotely, due to Covid-19.
What are a Muslim's obligations during Ramadan?
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam and is mandatory for all Muslims who are in good health. Those exempt include young children, anyone who is sick, travellers, and women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating.
The UAE's Fatwa Council ruled anyone with Covid-19 or experiencing symptoms is also exempt from fasting, so as to not hamper their recovery. Medics were also exempt from fasting while working “if they fear that fasting could lead to weakening their immunity or to losing their patients” .
During Ramadan, Muslims tend to increase their charitable work, spend more time with loved ones and strengthen their faith. Some may abstain from listening to music and quit bad habits like drinking too much coffee and smoking.
Some Muslims will also perform Umrah — an optional pilgrimage to Makkah, the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed in Saudi Arabia, that can be done at any time of the year, unlike Hajj, which has specific dates.
Saudi Arabia has lifted most Covid-19 precautions before peak Umrah season to welcome worshippers from around the world, provided they are vaccinated. Masks are not required outdoors but are mandatory inside mosques and other indoor facilities. Social distancing measures at mosques are also suspended.
Are mosques be open?
Mosques reopened to almost pre-pandemic levels in February. Masks remain mandatory indoors and worshippers must maintain a physical distance of at least one metre.
The National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority said prayers times would be as normal and daily mosque lessons and lectures can be resumed. Bottled water can also be distributed to worshippers.
Taraweeh prayers — night prayers performed during Ramadan — are being held in mosques again and during the last 10 nights of Ramadan, tahajjud prayers will also be held from midnight onwards at mosques.
Copies of the Quran can now be provided in mosques again once they are sterilised and women's prayer halls have returned to normal. People attending prayers should bring their person prayer mats to the mosque.
Worshippers can also now pray in a straight line again, rather than the zigzag format introduced during the pandemic, meaning more people can attend the mosque.
Are iftar tents open this year?
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, iftar tents are open during Ramadan.
The marquees were banned for the past two years to prevent gatherings and limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The week prior to Ramadan beginning, the UAE's National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority said the tents would be reinstated.
“This comes in line with the national strategy to maintain public health and safety in light of the resumption of various public activities, and in support of the tireless efforts made at the country level to achieve sustainable recovery and restore normalcy,” it told Wam.
Safety measures are in place, however, including social distancing and mask use.
How else could Covid-19 affect Ramadan this year?
The pandemic affected many aspects of Ramadan practices. From limiting communal prayers and preventing large family gathers for iftar, to changing how charity meals are distributed and suspending suhoor tents.
While iftar tents are reinstated this year, for government and licensed entities, authorities advise that group iftars and suhoor gatherings be limited to family members in the same household.
Last year, it was not permitted for food to be exchanged between households and all social gatherings related to Ramadan were banned.
Mosques and wealthy families in the UAE can erect tents or set up outdoor areas to distribute free iftar meals again for the first time since the pandemic broke out.
Previously, in lieu of the tents, authorities encouraged people to donate money to charities or contact labour accommodation managers or restaurants to arrange for the distribution of meal packets to low-income workers.
What will be unaffected by the pandemic?
Covid-19 affected every part of our lives and Ramadan was no different. The essence of Ramadan remains the same regardless of measures in place to protect people.
Increased piety, self-reflection and focusing on the things in life that matter most remain major parts of the holy month that are unchanged by the lingering affect of the pandemic.
Streets will still be decorated with festive and colourful lights. A culture of giving and helping others will likely be further strengthened as people band together in the face of adversity felt globally.
Muslims can continue to fast, taking care to ensure their health is maintained and they stay safe. They can also keep praying, both at home and in mosques. Quran recitation can be carried out with online resources available to help with pronunciation and explanations.
Muslims can also keep giving to charity and help their communities in whatever way possible.
What are the prayer timings this year?
What are the rules — cultural and official — in the UAE?
Respect and sensitivity for the religious customs associated with Ramadan are expected throughout the holy month.
In most emirates, eating and drinking in public places — including cars — during Ramadan is banned. This does not apply to children.
Employees working from offices must refrain from eating or drinking in front of their fasting colleagues. Typically, workplaces provide a cordoned off area where non-fasting staff can eat.
Last year, Dubai's Department of Economic Development said food outlets were no longer required to serve food out of public view during fasting hours.
Screens and curtains that were previously used, particularly in malls, are no longer needed. Despite this, people are expected to refrain from eating or drinking publicly, unless in dedicated dining areas.
Will restaurants be open throughout Ramadan? Will they still deliver?
Supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants and businesses will remain open throughout the day during Ramadan. Restaurants are open for dine-in guests and can deliver food all day.
Malls will also remain open, so people can have access to supermarkets, shops, restaurants and cafes.
Licensed premises and bars will remain open but must ensure patrons are respectful. There is typically no live music and entertainment is kept to a minimum.
Can people kiss on cheeks or hug their partner or friends of the opposite sex in public during Ramadan?
People must maintain a one-metre distance from each other when in public due to the pandemic. As is required at other times of the year — but especially during Ramadan — people should avoid demonstrative acts of affection in public. This can be an offence.
Do I need to be careful about what I wear during Ramadan?
Men and women are expected to dress more modestly during Ramadan. Revealing and tight clothing should be avoided in public.
Should I refrain from making jokes during Ramadan?
Non-Muslims should reconsider using strong language or making jokes that could be deemed inappropriate to Muslims who are fasting are around them.
What happens if I accidentally eat or drink in public?
It is best to avoid eating or drinking publicly out of respect for those who are fasting. However, mistakes do happen and Ramadan is also a time for forgiveness.
What are the working hours during Ramadan?
According to the UAE Labour Law, working hours should be reduced by two hours per day during Ramadan. The law does not differentiate between fasting and non-fasting employees. But exact working hours will differ depending on whether you work in the private or public sector.
What are school hours during Ramadan?
Private schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai typically reduce school hours during the month of Ramadan.