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

Unsure about Ramadan protocol? Here is everything you need to know about spending the holy month in the UAE.

People break their fast at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi during Ramadan last year. Pawan Singh / The National
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1. Am I allowed to eat, drink or smoke in public during fasting hours?

No, during fasting hours, even non-Muslims are expected to follow the rules of fasting. You are allowed to eat, drink and smoke in private. During work, companies are required to provide an eating room away from those fasting.

2. Is there a set time where fast begins and ends?

Fasting follows the sunset and sunrise. So make sure to check up a prayer timing sheet and follow that for the times when eat is not allowed.

3. Do people in UAE have to wear modest clothes?

Modesty in dress is essential during the holy month, and men and women are expected to dress more modestly during Ramadan. In particular, 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.

4. How should I treat my friends and co-workers who are fasting?

The first week or two is usually the hardest for fasters. Not drinking water, not eating and quitting smoking or medication can have a big effect on those fasting - so don’t be offended if they don’t want to hang out before Iftar.

5. Do stores open during fasting hours?

Yes, however restaurants will be closed. Almost all stores will be closed the hour before and a couple of hours after sunset, so make sure to call to find out when Ramadan hours are. After Iftar, almost everywhere will be open.

6. Is the entire month the same?

No, towards the end, the last 10 days, prayer intensifies as devout Muslims can spend all night praying to make the best out of this holiest time. Workers might come in tired or sleep deprived, along with feeling the effects of the fast, so be mindful.

7. Why is it required to shorten working hours during Ramadan?

This follows the guidelines set up by the Federal Government for public and private sector companies, often omitting the lunch break and finishing the working day in the early afternoon.

8. Does it apply to all employees regardless of their religions?

This applies to all employees, not just Muslims.

9. Is drinking, eating or smoking in a car considered a crime?

If the car is screened off from public view and if a person is in their car and needs a drink, they have to be discreet. If it is seen in public is considered as a crime.

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

Most major nightclubs will close for Ramadan. Bars, pubs and lounges will generally remain open but will only serve alcohol after sunset. There is also no live music and nothing above quiet background music in bars and pubs.

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

Most restaurants and cafes are closed during the day until sunset. Many of them will have a closed off areas and remain open discretely for non-fasters.

12. Where can people who don’t fast get their lunch?

Supermarkets are open. Takeaway food can be delivered. Some hotels have a restaurant available where non-fasters can eat (Dubai is better served than the rest of the UAE in this regard) and room service remains available.

13. Can non-Muslims or non-fasters eat during daylight hours in front of their colleagues who are fasting?

No. If employees work in a shared or open plan office, they can designate a room where the door can be closed because the point here is to be respectful to those colleagues that are fasting.

14. Can people wear bikinis on the beach during Ramadan?

Public beaches, beach parks and hotel pools will all be open as usual, so people can continue to wear swimwear in these areas.

15. Can they play loud music in cars, at homes, on the beach?

They can play music, but they have to make sure it can’t be heard outside the car or home and should use earphones on the beach.

16. Can they chew gum during the daytime?

This is not allowed because it is seen as eating.

17. In Islam, if a Muslim is travelling they are exempt from fasting for the period of travel, so are they allowed to eat or drink or smoke in the airport?

Yes, this is allowed.

18. Is it OK to drink water at they gym while working out?

You can drink water at the gym, but be mindful when leaving the gym to go to the car park. Do not eat or drink in public.

19. 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.

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

Yes, this is allowed.

21. If non-Muslims have been invited to an Iftar meal with Muslim colleagues, can they accept the invitation?

Yes they can accept the invitation, but it is nice not to go empty-handed. It is usual to take Arabic desserts or sweets or a box of dates.

22. How can non-Muslims greet their Muslim colleagues on the occasion of the Holy Month?

By saying ‘Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak”

23. Can non-Muslims drive at the sundown while fasters heading to their homes to break their fast?

Definitely they can, but roads will be busy with people heading to their homes to break their fast because they haven't eaten or drank for around 15 hours. If people who don't fast don't need to be on the road at that time, it would be wise to wait half an hour to give fasters a chance to reach their homes. Police have also urged caution while driving at sundown.

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

As at other times of the year- but especially during Ramadan- people have to avoid demonstrative acts of affection in public. This will cause offence.

25. Can non-Muslim residents or tourists go to Ramadan tents at Iftar or Suhor 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.

26. Should I take extra care on social media during Ramadan?

Non-Muslims have to consider whether they have Muslim friends who are fasting on their social media networks before using strong language or sharing images that could be deemed inappropriate.

Further Ramadan reading:

■ Fasting? Here are some precautions you should take to stay healthy

■ To help pass the time: Top TV viewing for Ramadan 2015 in the UAE

■ Some events to look out for during the Holy Month

■ A time for giving: How and where to give during Ramadan 2015 in the UAE