“To fast is to identify our dependencies, and free ourselves from them.” Tariq Ramadan
It’s crept up on us again as it always does, SUMMER. It’s that time of year in Abu Dhabi where the air-conditioning is on high, we are all checking our car gauges daily to take note of the rising temperature and most expats have their travel exodus planned to escape the intense heat of the next few months. It’s definitely hotting up day by day but we haven’t quite reached the stage where the humidity slaps you in the face whenever you venture outside or your sunglasses constantly steam up, but we are close.
This year June not only marks the start of summer but also the countdown to the start of Ramadan which is scheduled to begin early next week depending on the declaration from the moon sighting committee, Inshallah. The Holy Month of Ramadan is one of the five Acts of Worship in the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and to non-muslims it appears to be about not eating or 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.
This is actually my eighth Ramadan here in the UAE (time flies fast here in the desert) and as the years have progressed I feel that as an expat you not only understand it better but you also learn how to cope and adapt as a non-faster to respect both the culture and rules associated with this act of worship. The city sleeps during daylight hours with the closure of malls and cafes (apart from some that have permission to open, see below for details) and comes alive again after sunset as people gather to break their fast. It’s a time for expats to be cautious not to break any Ramadan rules and generally be respectful to the country that we have all adopted and call home by wearing discreet clothing, not play loud music, display good manners and really just apply common sense in certain situations. It’s not all about rules and respect but also gives expats an opportunity to experience culture and traditions as well as the amazing Arabic food served at Iftar and Suhoor.
Tents have been erected at various venues across the capital to feed the poorer members of the community as Ramadan is also a time for giving and helping those less fortunate. Hotels, restaurants and cafes will be offering special Iftar menus where both muslims and non-muslims are welcomed to enjoy traditional food. Iftar, when people gather together to break their fast at sunset is traditionally started with the eating of dates as the Prophet Muhammad broke his fast with three dates, followed by an Iftar buffet or dinner, most establishments across the capital are offering their own variation of this feast. Others are also offering the pre-dawn meal Suhoor which is usually served in traditional tents. 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, lighting up at night to celebrate the Holy Month.
Here are some basic tips for non-fasters and those experiencing their first Ramadan in the UAE.
Fasting – Probably the thing non-muslims associate most with Ramadan is fasting. Muslims fast between the hours of sunrise and sunset, they refrain from not only eating and drinking but also 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 don’t drink your takeaway coffee until you get home.
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 and after all you are residing in a muslim country. 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 are prone to using bad language 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 gets to sunset as drivers are more fraught due to lack of sustenance and patience, historically there are 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. It’s a perfect time to donate any unwanted clothes or household objects.
Iftar and Suhoor – Do try and go to some Iftars and Suhoors to experience some amazing local food, traditions and culture.
Entertainment – The malls are all open late and it’s also the perfect time to catch up on all those TV series you keep meaning to watch but are just too busy.
Eid-al-Fitr 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, 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 6th or 7th July (according to the moon) and as it’s an official holiday from work for most expats it’s the perfect time for a staycation in or around the UAE or further afield. Read my previous posts Eid getaways and European City Breaks for some inspiration.
Back in September 2009 when I first arrived and experienced my first Ramadan nothing was open during the day in terms of coffee shops and cafes for those non-fasting folk. Fast forward to 2016 and lots of establishments now continue to serve throughout the day (no takeaway you must dine in) concealed behind curtains, many hotels and home delivery services also still operate as normal. It’s always best to telephone ahead and check if you are making a special journey as things are prone to change daily. All four branches of Jones the Grocer will be open as usual across the city as will favourites such as Nolu’s, Cafe Arabia and The Third Place, for a comprehensive guide to which restaurants and cafes are open during the day in the capital click here.
All that is left to say from me is Ramadan Kareem from anexpatabroad.
Coming soon……..my Iftar recommendations in Abu Dhabi
All the views are all my own. Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2016. All rights reserved.