Anexpatabroad’s Ramadan 101

Ramadan Mubarak. May this Ramadan be successful for all of us and provide us with good health an wealth.” Unknown

So the moon sighting committee declared that today (18th June) is the beginning of The Holy Month of Ramadan and this year it has started before the end of the school year and the mass expat exodus. For some people it’s their first experience of Ramadan in the UAE, so here’s anexpatabroad’s top tips for expats new and old to help you have a successful Ramadan.

Ramadan is one of the five Acts of Worship in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and to non-muslims it appears to be about not eating, drinking during daylight and shorter working hours but it’s actually much more about a time for spiritual growth through self-control, discipline, forgiveness and reflection. Having experienced five previous Ramadan’s, the city seems to sleep during daylight hours with the closure of malls and cafes (apart from some that have permission to open between curtained windows like Jones The Grocer and many more this year, click here for an Abu Dhabi guide to what is open) and comes alive again after sunset. As an expat it’s a time of being heedful to not break any rules and about being respectful, wear discreet clothing, not play loud music, display good manners and really just apply common sense in certain situations.

Mosques will be busy every evening as muslims gather for the night prayers, Taraweeh. All over the city Ramadan decorations line the streets and bridges, lit up at night to celebrate the Holy Month. Each day before dawn, many Muslims observe a pre-fast meal called Suhoor. At sunset it’s Iftar where the day’s fast is traditionally broken with dates as the Prophet Muhammad broke his fast with three dates. All around the capital hotels offer Iftar tents and buffets where both muslims and non-muslims are welcomed to enjoy traditional food. Across the city tents have also been erected to feed the poor members of the community as Ramadan is a time for giving and helping those less fortunate.

The basics…

Fasting – Probably the thing non-muslims associate most with Ramadan is fasting. Muslims fast between the hours of sunrise and sunset and that means they refrain form eating, drinking, smoking and even having bad thoughts. Non-muslims do not need to fast but must remember not to eat, drink or smoke in public areas during daylight hours. There are exceptions to the rules such as pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those suffering with an illness. It’s really just about using some common sense, don’t grab your usual chocolate bar from beside the till at the supermarket and start munching on it, don’t take that swig of water when you stop at traffic lights and keep your takeaway coffee out of sight.

Dress – Keep your attire decent and respectful. Make sure your shoulders, chest and knees are covered.

Behaviour – It’s even more important to behave in a respectful manner in Ramadan, after all you are residing in a muslim country so you should be doing that anyway. Don’t play loud music at home or in your car and PDA’s (Public displays of affection) are a complete No No, as is swearing so if you have a potty mouth be extra careful.

Driving – Take extra care on the roads, especially leading up to Iftar time. Generally the driving is much worse the nearer it is to sunset as drivers are fraught due to lack of sustenance and patience, historically there are many more accidents in Ramadan.

Charity – Ramadan is about helping those less fortunate by either making a donation or getting involved with a charitable project as a volunteer, as well as helping others it will give you a great feeling of positivity.

Iftar and Suhoor – Do try and get out and try some Iftar and Suhours to experience some amazing local food, traditions and culture. Iftar, when people gather together to break their fast at sunset is traditionally started with the eating of dates followed by a Iftar buffet or dinner and most establishments across the capital are offering their own variation of this feast. Others are also offering the pre-dawn meal Suhoor usually served in traditional tents. For an idea of where to try read my Ramadan Dining Preview featuring some of the Iftar previews that I visited.

Entertainment – The malls are all open late and it’s also the perfect time to catch up on all those box sets TV series you keep meaning to watch but are just too busy.

Eid-al-Fitr (End of Ramadan) is the first day of the Islamic month of Shawwal and marks the end of Ramadan. For muslims it’s a time of celebration with their families after the month of fasting and prayer. Much like our christmas festivities muslims wear their finest clothes during Eid-al-Fitr, decorate their homes with lights and decorations, give presents to their children and visit or host extended family. This year Eid-al-Fitr it will commence on Thursday 16th July and as it’s a holiday from work for most expats it’s the perfect time for a staycation in or around the UAE. Read my previous post Eid getaways for some inspiration.

In the next couple of weeks, the mass expat departure will begin as everyone leaves in their droves when schools finish for the long summer break, others are leaving for good as their expat experience comes to an end and others like myself are off back to our home countries for an extended holiday to escape the excessive heat and humidity. Our transient existence means we are all always coming and going and as well as many conversations about the weather and Ramadan we have all the standard chats interspersed with ‘When do you leave?”, “How long are you away for?”, “Where are you going?” and “When are you back?”.

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Ramadan Kareem to anyone celebrating from anexpatabroad 😉

Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved.