Ramadan 2023 in UAE: Everything you need to know about the holy month

As the country marks its first Ramadan 'post-Covid', here is what to expect

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The holiest month of the year for Muslims will begin in the UAE on March 23. The official date was determined by the country's moon-sighting committee on Tuesday night.

It will be the first Ramadan in three years to be held without Covid-19 restrictions, after authorities dropped an indoor mask mandate in September last year.

In November, the requirement to have green status on Al Hosn app ― proof of a recent PCR test and vaccination status ― to enter the majority of public places in Abu Dhabi was also removed.

Previous limitations on gatherings that once affected Ramadan traditions, such as visiting family and iftar or suhoor tents are no longer in place, allowing the full spirit of the month to be felt once more.

As the country marks its first Ramadan “post-Covid”, here is what to expect from the holy month:

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic — or Hijri — calendar because it is believed to be the month in which 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 depending on the moon phase.

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 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 does Ramadan begin and how is its start determined?

Ramadan will begin in the UAE on Thursday.

The Moon-sighting committee met at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department after maghrib (sunset) prayers on Tuesday and announced it could not yet see a new crescent moon, meaning Ramadan would begin on Thursday, state news agency Wam reported.

Earlier, Saudi Arabia declared Ramadan would begin on Thursday too, after its sighting committee was unable to see the new moon.

The Moon-sighting 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 confirms it with the naked eye.

Ramadan's Night of Power, the holiest night in Islam

Ramadan's Night of Power, the holiest night in Islam

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, pregnant, nursing or menstruating, and travellers.

The UAE's Fatwa Council previously ruled anyone with Covid-19 or experiencing symptoms to be 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, many Muslims 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 such as 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.

Are mosques open?

Mosques reopened in February last year and the mask mandate was lifted the following November.

“Today we announced lifting all Covid-19 restrictions and … wearing a mask at all open and closed facilities including places of worship and mosques,” said Dr Saif Al Dhaheri, of the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, at the time.

Taraweeh prayers — night prayers performed during Ramadan — are being held as they were before the pandemic. During the final 10 nights of Ramadan, tahajjud prayers will also be held from midnight onwards at mosques.

Are iftar tents open this year?

Yes. Iftar tents reopened in time for Ramadan 2022 after being closed for the previous two years to limit the spread of Covid-19.

What can people expect to see during Ramadan this year?

Long-time residents of the UAE will remember life being noticeably different during Ramadan. Previously, almost all restaurants would close during the daylight hours and those that remained open would only serve food behind barriers to avoid being seen by fasting Muslims.

As the population has grown and become increasingly multicultural, these rules have been relaxed. Restaurants and bars now remain open and serve food publicly, though live music is less popular during the holy month.

Throughout the month, the streets are decorated with Ramadan-themed lights and canons are set up in specific areas to mark the setting of the sun each day, signalling to Muslims that they may break their fast.

Families typically gather together for iftar and it is common to invite friends to join — even if they are not fasting.

Charity increases during the holy month. Mosques and wealthy families in the UAE sometimes erect tents or set up outdoor areas to distribute free iftar meals for low-income workers. People are also encouraged to donate money to charities so food can be distributed to people in need.

What are the prayer timings this year and how many hours will Muslims have to fast each day?

What are the rules — cultural and official — in the UAE?

Respect and sensitivity for the religious customs associated with Ramadan are expected throughout the month.

In most emirates, eating and drinking in public places — including cars — during Ramadan is banned. This does not apply to children.

Employees working in 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.

In 2021, 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. This is now also common practice in Abu Dhabi.

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 or hug their partner or friends in public during Ramadan?

Overt public displays of affection are generally frowned upon across most of the UAE throughout the year but especially during Ramadan. This can be an offence.

What should I wear during Ramadan?

Men and women are expected to dress more modestly during Ramadan. Revealing and tight clothing should be avoided in public.

Can I make jokes or swear during Ramadan?

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

Last year, government employees worked from 9am to 2.30pm from Monday to Thursday and 9am to noon on Fridays throughout the holy month.

What are school hours during Ramadan?

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

When is Eid Al Fitr?

Ramadan will last either 29 or 30 days depending on the moon phases. This means Eid will fall around April 21-22. The date will be confirmed by the moon-sighting committee in the final days of Ramadan.

This year, Eid Al Fitr is expected to fall towards the end of the week, meaning workers will have a four-day weekend.