UAE cultural tips and etiquette to follow during Ramadan 2023

For people experiencing their first holy month in the Emirates, here are some of the things you need to know

An iftar cannon at Qasr Al Hosn in Abu Dhabi signals the breaking of the day’s fast. Victor Besa / The National
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Ramadan will begin in the UAE on March 23. The official date was determined by the country's moon-sighting committee on Tuesday night.

Muslims have been preparing themselves for the holiest month of the year in which they fast during daylight hours, only eating and drinking again once the Sun sets.

The purpose of abstaining from food or drink all day for a month is to empathise with the less fortunate, while also removing the distraction of food to focus on faith.

The holy month represents a distinct change in routine for fasting Muslims. For non-Muslims living in the UAE, the spirit of Ramadan can also be felt, albeit in different ways.

Decorative street lights line the country's main roads and supermarkets become busier, with Ramadan staples including apricot paste and Vimto on display. Tents are also put up at hotels and beside some large homes.

Working and school hours are reduced in consideration of fasting Muslims, who often stay up late with night prayers and Quran recitation.

Although Ramadan is known mostly for fasting, it is also a time when Muslims strengthen their faith, gather frequently with family, increase their charitable efforts and generally spend time on personal reflection.

If this is your first Ramadan in the UAE, here are a few things to look out for — from official rules to cultural tips or recommendations.

Do not eat, drink or smoke in public, if you can avoid it

Ramadan is a time when Muslims abstain from eating, drinking or smoking from sunrise to sunset. Out of consideration for those fasting, people are not to eat, drink, smoke or even chew gum in public while the sun is out.

Officially, doing so is against the law and could result in a Dh2,000 ($545) fine or a jail sentence of no more than a month — although this is rarely applied.

Instead, non-Muslims can do all of these things in private or designated areas, including at restaurants and cafes.

At work, companies are required to provide a room for people to eat away from those fasting.

Water can be consumed at the gym and private beaches, while it is best to be mindful about going to and from the car park.

You can eat, drink and smoke in your car if the interior of your vehicle is not visible. Discretion is generally advised.

Children are also able to eat and drink in public.

If you forget and are seen eating or drinking publicly, it is best to apologise and try to avoid making the mistake. Ramadan is also about practising patience, so people are usually forgiving about mistakes.

Behave respectfully around fasting Muslims

As at other times of the year — but especially during Ramadan — people should avoid demonstrative acts of affection in public, as this can be an offence.

People should also avoid making a scene in public, because it is generally a time of peaceful reflection and piety.

Men and women are also expected to dress more modestly during the holy month, avoiding revealing and tight clothing. Swimwear is still acceptable at public beaches and hotel pools, which will be open as usual.

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

It is also best to avoid playing music loudly during the holy month and to use headphones instead — particularly during prayers or the call to prayer.

Participate where appropriate

Non-Muslims can certainly try their hand at fasting, attend iftar and suhoor tents at hotels and participate in charitable initiatives if they wish to get into the spirit of the holy month.

If invited to iftar, as with any such offer, it is polite to attend. It is not a requirement, but it is never wrong to bring a gift when visiting someone’s home. It is advisable to arrive 10 to 15 minutes before maghrib (sunset) and turning up with a box of dates or sweets in hand will not go amiss.

Watching the iftar cannon go off, which signals the setting of the sun, at a park or mosque can also be a nice experience, particularly for children who can learn about its significance during the holy month.

During Ramadan, Muslims tend to give more to charity and people are invited to practise the spirit of giving. Non-Muslims can also take this time to donate to charity or carry out volunteer work.

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.

Those who wish to set up a tent must go through a licensing procedure that involves receiving temporary permits from the municipality.

Updated: March 22, 2023, 4:35 AM