Ramadan 2019 FAQs: everything you need to know about the holy month in the UAE

Spending your first Ramadan in the Emirates or just need to refresh your memory of a few do's and don’ts? We have you covered

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Ramadan – which started on Monday, May 6 in the UAE – is the ninth month in the Islamic (Hijri) calendar.

It is the holiest month for Muslims as it is believed the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed during Ramadan.

During this month, Muslims do not consume any food or drinks between fajr and maghrib prayers (at dawn and sunset)  – not even water.

What happens during Ramadan?

Ramadan is not just about abstaining from food: it is primarily about being more pious and seeking spiritual closeness to God. Some Muslims spend more time in the mosque during the holy month or read the Quran. Ramadan is a time when Muslims are expected to focus more on charity, patience and being grateful.

What is iftar?

Iftar is when Muslims break their fast. This is done when the sun sets at maghrib.

What do Muslims traditionally eat during Ramadan?

It is said the Prophet would break his fast with a date and a glass of water before praying, and then would have a light meal. Those observing Ramadan are advised to follow a similar pattern by eating something light, taking a break, then eating again. This stops people from overeating and avoids overwhelming the stomach. Every year, doctors see hundreds of residents suffering from a condition that surfaces mostly during Ramadan  – stomach cramps and bloated bellies. For this reason, doctors advise to avoid food that is high in fat, sugar and salt.

What is suhoor? 

Suhoor is when Muslims eat again before dawn. Many hotels offer suhoor, which involves staying up late and eating into the early morning. All eating and drinking must stop at imsak, 10 minutes before dawn (fajr).

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Jun 29, 2014 -  Duhr prayer at Masjid Musabah Bin Rashid Al Fattan Mosque during the First day of Ramadan. ( Jaime Puebla / The National Newspaper )
 Ramadan is the holiest month for Muslims. Jaime Puebla / The National

What happens after Ramadan?

On the eve of the 30th day of Ramadan, the Moon sighting committee will reconvene and begin searching for a glimpse of the new crescent Moon. If they spot the new moon, the following morning will be announced as the first day of Shawwal – Eid Al Fitr.

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 working hours will differ depending on whether you work in the private or public sector. Here are the hours for the public sectorand private sector.

Here’s what our Workplace Doctor says:

Are parking timings different in Ramadan?

Yes, here are the changes:

Ramadan 2019: free parking in Dubai during iftar period

Do shops open during fasting hours?

Yes. However, some restaurants will be closed. Almost all shops will be closed an hour before and a couple of hours after sunset, so be sure to call ahead. After iftar, almost everywhere will be open.

Are all malls operating as usual?

Malls are open during the day and for an extra hour or two at night. Closing times might be as late as midnight or 1am, but it changes from one mall to another.

Can visitors, tourists or non-Muslim residents buy alcohol or go to clubs during Ramadan?

Some nightclubs will close for Ramadan. Bars, pubs and lounges will generally remain open but only some will serve alcohol after sunset. Live or loud music is not played in bars and pubs. Dubai's tourism authority relaxed licensing rulesto allow some hotels and restaurants to serve alcohol and food during the day throughout the holy month.

Do all restaurants stop serving food to residents and visitors even if they are non-Muslims? 

Some restaurants and cafes close during the day until sunset, although most will have an enclosed area and remain open discretely for people not fasting. Supermarkets stay open throughout the day. Takeaway food can also be delivered. Some hotels have a restaurant available where non-fasters can eat and room service remains available.

Here are some of our iftar guides:

The best iftars to try in Dubai

The best iftars to try in Abu Dhabi

The in-flight iftars offered on Emirates, Etihad and flydubai this Ramadan

International iftars and suhoors to try in the UAE

A week-by-week eating guide for those fasting

Ramadan rules and obligations:

Am I allowed to eat, drink or smoke in public during fasting hours?

During fasting hours, even non-Muslims are expected to follow the rules of fast. You are allowed to eat, drink and smoke in private. At work, companies are required to provide a room to eat away from those fasting. You can drink water at the gym and at private beaches but be mindful when going to and from the car park. You should also avoid chewing gum in public because it is considered as eating. The key is to be discreet.

Can people eat, drink or smoke in the car?

Yes, but only if the interior of the car is not visible. However, it is best to be discreet. If seen in public, it is considered a crime.

If children are exempt from fasting, can they eat in public?

Yes, this is allowed.

Can people kiss on cheeks or hug their partner or friends of the opposite sex in public during Ramadan?

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. Women should keep cleavage, knees and shoulders covered out of respect. This includes when people are heading for a night out. Swimwear is still acceptable at public beaches and hotel pools, which will all be open as usual.

The best capsule collections to help you suhoor in style

Should I refrain from cracking jokes during Ramadan?

Non-Muslims should consider whether they have Muslim friends who are fasting around them before using strong language or making jokes that could be deemed inappropriate.

What happens if I forget it is Ramadan and I accidentally eat or drink in public?

It is not the end of the world; just try not to do it again and hope no one was offended. Ramadan is also about practising patience, so people are usually forgiving about mistakes.

What are those massive tents I see dotted around residential neighbourhoods?

Some families choose to put up tents  –  in co-ordination with their respective municipalities and Emirates Red Crescent  – to feed low-income workers in the area. Last year, we spoke to Saqer Al Mehairbi, who has been feeding hundreds of Ramadan observers for 25 years. He has welcomed about 500 people to break their fast every day during Ramadan.

Those who wish to set up tents must go through a licensing procedure that involves temporary permits from the municipality, civil defence checks to ensure safety and security measures, and Abu Dhabi Distribution Company for electrical connections and installations.

Here’s where you can find all Dubai’s Ramadan fridges

Careem to distribute Dubai Ramadan food donations for free

If I am flying into the UAE during Ramadan can I bring alcohol with me?

Yes, as long as it does not exceed the duty-free allowance.

It is my birthday during Ramadan, can I invite people who are fasting?

You can, but it would probably be more fun for them if the celebrations were after iftar and also do not be offended if your Muslim friends choose not to attend. If the party is before iftar, make it clear that there will be food and drinks served so they can decline if they would be uncomfortable.

Help, I’ve been invited to an iftar  – what do I do?

It is not a prerequisite but it is never wrong to bring a gift when visiting someone’s home. Arrive 10 to 15 minutes before maghrib and a box of dates or sweets in hand will not go amiss.

Can non-Muslim residents or tourists go to Ramadan tents at iftar or suhoor times?

Yes they can, but it is best not to leave dinner reservations until the last minute because restaurants across the country can become much busier as families meet to break the fast together.

What charity obligations do Muslims have to fulfil during Ramadan?

Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam and is an obligation for whoever passes a certain criteria of wealth. During Ramadan, Muslims tend to give more to charity and people are invited to practise the spirit of giving.

Can non-Muslims contribute to charities during Ramadan?

Yes, of course.

How does the volunteering law affect charity work during Ramadan?

The director general of the Community Development Authority said the law  – that bans volunteering without permission  – will not prevent community groups from their good work. Read about it here: New volunteering laws not aimed at discouraging community service, says government

Further Ramadan reading

It is important to stay healthy during the holy month:

Make sure you stay safe on the roads: Most dangerous driving time in UAE during Ramadan revealed

Prayer times: Ramadan 2019 prayer times for Abu Dhabi


This article was first published April 26, 2019