Cultural tips and rules to follow in the UAE during Ramadan 2024

From being mindful of fasting Muslims to respectful ways of participating, here are some of the things you need to know about spending the holy month in the Emirates

A cannon is fired at Abu Dhabi’s oldest building, Qasr Al Hosn, to signal prayers and the breaking of the day’s fast. Victor Besa / The National
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Ramadan is expected to begin on March 11 or 12 this year. The official date will probably be determined by the country's moon-sighting committee on Sunday night.

During this month, the holiest in Islam, Muslims fast during daylight hours, only eating and drinking again once the sun sets.

Muslims abstain from food or drink all day to focus on faith, as well as to empathise with the less fortunate.

The holy month represents a distinct change in routine for fasting Muslims, who take the time to strengthen their faith, gather frequently with family, increase their charitable efforts and spend time on personal reflection. 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. Iftar 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.

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, where possible

During Ramadan, 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. It is best to be mindful about drinking when 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 typically forgiving about mistakes.

Be mindful 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 as 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.

Get involved where appropriate

Non-Muslims can certainly try their hand at fasting by attending iftar and suhoor tents at hotels and participating in charitable initiatives if they wish to partake in aspects 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. 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.

Iftar and prayer timings for Ramadan 2024:

Updated: March 08, 2024, 1:01 PM