Ramadan 2024 in UAE: Everything you need to know about the holy month

Fasting Muslims will experience a change in routine while non-Muslims will likely feel the spirit in different ways

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Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims, will begin next week. In the UAE, the official start date will be determined by the country's moon-sighting committee.

If you are spending your first Ramadan in the Emirates or need a refresher on what to expect, here is everything you need to know about the holy month:

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic – or Hijri – lunar calendar because it is believed to be the month in which the Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammed.

Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day of the month, which typically lasts 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 thought 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 faith carried out on this night are said to be more than those for 1,000 months of worship.

When does Ramadan begin and why is the start date not known in advance?

Ramadan is expected to begin on March 11 or 12 this year. The official date will be determined by the country's moon-sighting committee on Sunday night.

The start of Ramadan depends on the length of the previous month of Shaban, which is determined by the moon phase. The length of Ramadan is similarly determined following another moon-sighting process towards the end of the holy month.

The Moon-sighting process is repeated 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 and then confirms it with the naked eye.

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. Children, and anyone who is sick, pregnant, nursing or menstruating are exempt from fasting, along with people travelling long distances.

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 smoking or drinking too much coffee.

Some Muslims will also perform Umrah – an optional pilgrimage to Makkah, the birthplace of Prophet Mohammed in Saudi Arabia, that can be done at any time of the year, unlike Hajj, which has specific dates.

Prayer is another one of the five pillars of Islam and is required of all able Muslims five times a day. During Ramadan, an additional optional night prayer is performed after isha called taraweeh. Muslims typically try to pray these at a mosque as it is thought there is a greater reward in communal prayer. During the final 10 nights of Ramadan, when Muslims increase their piety, some may choose to perform tahajjud prayers – also known as qiyam al layl – which are carried out after taraweeh throughout the evening.

What is iftar and what time will it be?

Iftar, the meal to break the fast, is had at sunset once the call to maghrib prayers is heard. Typically, Muslims will have iftar with friends or family, beginning the meal with some water, dates and soup.

The Prophet is said to have broken his fast with a date and a glass of water before performing maghrib prayers and then eating a light meal. Those observing Ramadan are advised to follow a similar routine by eating something light, taking a break and then eating again. This stops people from overeating and avoids overwhelming the stomach.

Some people may choose to visit iftar tents at hotels or restaurants, where buffets are typically served.

At the beginning of Ramadan, this year, iftar in the UAE will be at around 6.30pm but as the days lengthen, maghrib will be at 6.45pm. Muslims will fast around 15 hours a day in the Emirates this year.

What is suhoor?

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

Some Muslims will stay up until suhoor, spending that time praying or reading the Quran and then sleeping just before dawn.

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 to low-income workers. People are also encouraged to donate money to charities so food can be distributed to people in need.

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, 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.

This year, working hours for ministries and federal agencies during the holy month will begin at 9am and end at 2.30pm, from Monday to Thursday. Working hours on Fridays will be 9am to 12pm.

What are school hours during Ramadan?

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

This year, in Dubai, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority have said school should not exceed five hours of instruction time.

In Abu Dhabi, private schools announced four-hour school days beginning at 9.30am and ending at 1.30pm between Monday and Thursday. Fridays begin at the same time, ending two hours later at 11.30am.

When is Eid Al Fitr?

Ramadan will last either 29 or 30 days depending on the moon phases. This means Eid will fall between April 9-11. 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 middle of the week, giving workers up to five days off.