Dubai,  UAE

Understanding Ramadan

It has been almost 15 years and that means it’s been 15 years that I get to experience this season called Ramadan.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During this month Muslims believed    that that first verses of Quaran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It is the season of prayer and fasting specifically for a month for our brothers and sisters in the Islam religion. Throughout Ramadan, Muslims undertake fasting – abstaining food and drinks from dawn to sunset. They believed that this is a process of purifying the soul and draws them closer to Allah (God). They also mark this period with charity and increased prayer aside from the 5 times a day.

The breaking of fast – called Iftar is usually the daily highlight of each day of Ramadan as by that time, all Muslims and other non-Muslims can now eat. A call to prayer will be heard around the city marking that moment. Here in Dubai, it is usually at 6:30 – 6:45 PM. The fasting is marked with 2 principal meals for them, Iftar (the breaking of fast) and Suhoor – the pre-dawn hours meal just before the fasting starts once again. It is ideally a family gathering, sharing over food, reflection, and conversations. Outside you will see organizations sharing free Iftar meals. While others pay their Zakat – a form of tithing/almsgiving. You will then see decorations of light all over the streets of the country, marking the significance of the month.

When is Ramadan?

When I arrived in Abu Dhabi in September 2008, it was Ramadan but through the years it goes backwards that today in 2024 it is in mid-March.

Islamic calendar moves around based on the moon, as mentioned earlier Ramadan happens to be the ninth month and

How Muslims & Non-Muslims Celebrate Ramadan

  • Ramadan Hours – Muslims and Non-Muslims get to have shorter work period. The most commonly distinct during Ramadan is the shortened working hours, usually 2 hours less. So, employees can go home earlier, considering those who are fasting.
  • Restricted Eating/Drinking – in some part of the city, it is highly encouraged not to eat in public (although this has majorly changed over the years). But showing respect to our Muslim brethren by not eating/drinking in front of them goes a long way. Offices usually closed their pantry – just like mine. 😊
  • Donation Drive – Organizations prepare Iftar meals and volunteering activities such as distributing these meals and other donation drive also happens.
  • Reduced Activity – activities are still possible but, in some places, loud music/noise are prohibited.
  • Social & Religious Events – the UAE Government of Islamic Affairs also creates various events related to Ramadan, including Quran reading and other awareness sessions.
  • Hag Al Layla – in the UAE Ramadan kicks off on a special day called Hag Al Layla, where Emirati children dress up and visit the nearby houses/neighbourhood to gather candies, the way we do during Easter. Usually done 10-15 days before the first day of Ramadan.
  • At the end of Ramadan, Ed Al Fitr comes. Here’s a story I wrote about it > Eid Holidays.
  • Ramadan Gifts/Corporate gift – some local/Emirati companies will give gifts usually dates, nuts and other Arabic items. This year I received one from my line manager! Sharing the video soon on #JMTV.

Final Thoughts

As a Catholic Christian, it made me appreciate how similar Islam is with Christianity. In fact, in my previous conversations with some of them – they too believed in Jesus and Mary. The similarity of Ramadan to our Lent has a striking resemblance, a time for prayer, service, and almsgiving. I also noticed that Lent and Ramadan usually overlap. As of writing we are on the week 4 of Lent, while it is day 11 of Ramadan.

True that the restriction of food/eating in malls have loosen up over the years because back then, 10 years ago, we may not have the chance to eat in the food court in day light. Nevertheless, respect is still there. It is also in this season that I see the value of Tolerance of the UAE government  (and people) towards expats like us.

I hope this short write up allows you to learn a thing or two about Ramadan.


God bless,

Photo via | by Yash Sangle

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