Ramadan is a big deal and as a new expat in Dubai, I am intrigued and interested to learn more about the culture I am now living within. Sure Dubai is filled to the brim with foreigners; tourists and expats who have made this place their home and somewhat taken over, bringing their western cultures with them, but fundamentally, the UAE is a muslim country.
The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan, is one of the most important periods in the Muslim calendar. It is a time of spiritual awakening, self-evaluation and remembrance of Allah, which Muslims observe through fasting and prayer. Ramadan teaches Muslims self-discipline, humility and giving. Charity is a significant part of Ramadan, and Muslims are expected to help the needy.
I don't know much about Ramadan and what I do know comes from the internet (here is a really expat-friendly overview of what Ramadan is and the traditions) and advice and guidance from new friends in Dubai; seasoned expats granted, who have spent several years in the UAE and survived several Ramadan experiences.
The UAE Moon Sighting Committee has announced that Ramadan will start tomorrow, Sunday the 29th June. And aside from being a little anxious, I am rather excited to see how this religious festival pans out and how it affects us non-muslims taking up residence in Dubai.
The night before Ramadan starts sees the city go completely dry, with no alcohol for sale. This doesn't apply for the whole month of Ramadan, however i've been told many bars and clubs wind down during this period due to the heat as well as the religious customs, such as the prohibition of live music. The bars that remain open for business will have limited background music and will only serve alcohol after sunset.
Fasting is a major part of Ramadan and while non-muslims are not required to participate, the key to a happy ramadan experience is respect. This means expats and tourists are not allowed to drink, smoke, eat or chew gum between sunrise and sunset in public. And public extends to offices, cars and even your balcony. This will affect everything from having breakfast on the balcony in the morning to walking to the metro station waterless. But in the comfort of your own home, you can do what you like.
The rules extend to clothing too. Dubai is a pretty progressive place and you see women wearing all sorts of clothing, baring all when they are out and about. But during Ramadan a heightened degree of respect is advised and women are asked to be respectful with their clothing choices covering shoulders and knees in public places which includes the metro, the malls and restaurants.
I have heard that some restaurants are open during the day and offer places to eat out of direct public view and many hotels continue to operate fully, even allowing guests to eat and drink on the hotel beaches.
Maybe Ramadan won't affect us too much since the boyfriend works in a predominantly expat office which offers areas for expats to go and drink and eat. And I, well I have no reason to leave the house except for the pool or to explore, all of which are becoming increasingly difficult anyway, given the soaring temperatures and the humidity. But once the sun sets and Muslims embark on their Iftar, breaking the days fast, us expats are free to eat and drink throughout the city.
We will see if my feelings about Ramadan change as the month goes on. In the meantime, get clued up about Ramadan and being respectful, this is a great little article.