Ramadan 2021 in UAE: everything you need to know about the holy month

As the country balances reopening businesses and public safety, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, here is what to expect from Ramadan this year

The holiest month of the year for Muslims began in the UAE on Monday, kicking off the second Ramadan held during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Safety restrictions remain in place but, a year into the outbreak, the country has slowly reopened, allowing for some Ramadan traditions to return.

Unlike last year, when all places of worship were closed, mosques will remain open this year for prayers. Capacity limits are in place, among other measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Individuals living in the same households can break their fasts together but cannot gather with people from other homes.

Iftar and suhoor tents remain suspended, as was the case last year.

As the country balances reopening businesses and public safety, what else can be expected 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 either 29 and 30 days.

As well as abstaining from food and drink, Ramadan is also a religious time when Muslims strengthen their faith through prayer and increased recitation of the Quran.

Piety increases 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 the 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.

A man looks for the new crescent moon to indicate the start of a new Islamic month. Pawan Singh / The National
A man looks for the new crescent moon to indicate the start of a new Islamic month. Pawan Singh / The National

When will Ramadan begin?

Ramadan began on April 13, after the UAE's moon-sighting committee spotted the new crescent moon after maghrib prayers on Sunday.

The exact date is only confirmed a night or two before the holy month begins because the Islamic, or hijri, calendar is based on moon cycles.

Each hijri month can either be 29 or 30 days long, which will affect 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 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 thereafter.

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, women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating.

Last year, the UAE's Fatwa Council ruled that anyone with Covid-19 or experiencing symptoms was 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 habits like drinking 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.

Umrah was temporarily suspended but resumed late last year. Saudi Arabia has since extended an international travel ban to May 17, which will likely be after Eid Al Fitr.

This would mean that only Saudi citizens and residents will be able to perform Umrah, if at all.

The kingdom is also considering making vaccinations mandatory for all pilgrims.

Employees of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company support UAE communities during Ramadan. Courtesy Adnoc
Employees of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company support UAE communities during Ramadan. Courtesy Adnoc

Will mosques be open?

Last year, mosques were closed during Ramadan and Friday prayers resumed only in November, months after places of worship reopened.

But this year, mosques will remain open.

They must, however, be sanitised before and after prayers.

Taraweeh prayers, which are held after evening prayers and counted among the obligations of a Muslim during Ramadan, will be conducted under the precautionary measures already announced. They include capacity limits and mandatory masks.

Worshippers must also bring their own prayer mat and Quran, and remain physically distant from others.

Communal acts of worship are believed to bring greater rewards to Muslims but large gatherings are currently not permitted, so as to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

There will be no iftar tents or banquets outside mosques, or elsewhere.

Physical copies of the holy Quran should not be distributed, and read digitally instead.

Read more: How Ramadan will be different this year

How else could Covid-19 affect Ramadan this year?

As we have already experienced Ramadan during the outbreak, less uncertainty hangs over this year's holy month.

Authorities said people should break their fasts in their own households, rather than gather with extended family or friends.

Iftar and suhoor can be shared only by relatives living in the same house.

Wider family gatherings should not be held, and food must not be exchanged between different households. Majales should also be avoided and all big gatherings related to Ramadan activities will be banned.

In previous years, mosques and wealthy families in the UAE have erected tents or set up outdoor areas where they can distribute free iftar meals. That will not happen this year. Meals can be distributed only in labour accommodation.

Those who are interested in giving iftar meals to workers should contact the manager of the accommodation and a restaurant to arrange the distribution of meal packets.

Restaurants cannot distribute meals inside or outside the premises.

Intensive inspection campaigns will be conducted during Ramadan and action will be taken against offenders, authorities have said.

Many low-income workers rely on mosques and these personal tents for meals. Last year, charities delivered food to the homes of people in need instead.

With supermarkets open full-time again, families will be able to stock up on supplies before Ramadan as usual.

Tents serving iftar and suhoor were a Ramadan staple until last year when they were not permitted to open due to the pandemic.

Dubai's Islamic authority cancelled all permits for Ramadan tents in the emirate this year to prevent gatherings.

Collective tents have also been banned elsewhere.

In the last 10 days of Ramadan, the situation will be reassessed and restrictions may be eased.

Elderly people and those with chronic diseases that place them at greater risk should continue to avoid public places.

And masks must be worn outside the home at all times.

What will be unaffected by the pandemic?

Covid-19 has affected every part of our lives and Ramadan is no different. Despite the measures brought in to protect people, the essence of Ramadan remains the same.

Increased piety, self-reflection and focusing on the things in life that matter most will be made easier by having usual distractions eliminated.

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 with places of worship open for taraweeh prayers this year. 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. Supporting those in need will be important again this year with many people financially affected by the outbreak.

This year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, launched a plan to fund 100 million free meals in 20 countries across the region. A website set up for the campaign allows people to donate as little as Dh10 to fund 10 meals, rising to Dh500 or more.

Since families and friends must spend Ramadan apart, people can be sure to make an effort by calling more or video conferencing to feel closer to each other.

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 in cars that can be seen into – during Ramadan is banned.

Though many people will be working from home this year, essential workers and the percentage of staff allowed in offices must refrain from eating or drinking in front of their fasting colleagues. Typically, workplaces provide a cordoned off area for their non-fasting staff to eat.

This 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.

Will restaurants be open for Ramadan? Will they still deliver?

Supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants and businesses will remain open throughout the day during Ramadan. Restaurants open for dine-in guests 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 ensure patrons are respectful. There is 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 should not be touching individuals not within their household anyway, owing to the pandemic. As 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 whenever in public.

Should I refrain from cracking jokes during Ramadan?

Non-Muslims should reconsider using strong language or making jokes that could be deemed inappropriate if Muslims who are fasting are around them.

What happens if I accidentally eat or drink in public?

It is unlikely that anyone will be eating or drinking in public because the UAE government has mandated that anyone who leaves their home wear a face mask at all times, unless at a restaurant, where eating and drinking is permitted.

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 the school hours during Ramadan?

Private schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai will reduce school hours during the month of Ramadan.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Dubai's private education regulator, said private schools would have to cut their school day to five hours from the usual seven.

Private schools in Abu Dhabi would also have their school hours reduced to five.

Abu Dhabi private schools cannot start the day before 9:30am and must end by 3:30pm.

Updated: April 13, 2021 11:16 AM

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