The Holy Month of Ramadan is one of the most important times of the year for Muslims in the UAE and other parts of the world. Observing Ramadan is to celebrate the ninth month when the Qu’ran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him. During this time, families remember the Holy Month with fasting, prayer and spending time together while also partaking in various community-focused activities. We discuss below the ultimate guide to Ramadan in the United Arab Emirates for residents and tourists alike.

Suhoor is known as the first and earliest meal of the day before Muslims commence with their fasting. Suhoor is observed before the crack of dawn to pray during the morning “adhaan” or call to prayer, and have suhoor together with family. In the UAE, weekday suhoor is typically spent together with family at home, while many Muslims tend to eat out at restaurants or luxury Ramadan tents before beginning the day of fast.

Siyam, meaning “to refrain,” is referred to as the hours spent fasting from sunrise to sunset for the Holy Month. Muslims may not drink, eat, or smoke during this time, while negative actions and thoughts must also be refrained from. Siyam symbolises the cleansing of the body, mind and soul from imperfection while focusing one’s mind and actions on prayer, thankfulness, salvation and charitable deeds for the less fortunate.

Iftar occurs at sunset when Muslims break their fast with water and traditional dates before prayer time, after which a massive spread of popular iftar dishes are served to be enjoyed together with loved ones. Popular iftar dishes include biryani, saloona, samosas, fruits, and decadent desserts including kunafa and basbousa.

The Holy Month of Ramadan is filled with words or phrases that have a special meaning to fasting Muslims. It is very typical to hear exchanges of “Ramadan Kareem” or the words “zakat” and “salah.” We have put together a helpful guide with common words to familiarise yourself with if you are not familiar with Islam or Ramadan. You can read our blog article here.
Paying zakat is done once a year during Ramadan where Muslims donate 2.5% of their savings or earnings to the less fortunate. Additionally, great importance is placed on giving back to the community, with Muslims giving food to the mosque, neighbours, the poor, and to those who perform essential jobs during the iftar time and cannot be home to break their fast. Sharing and giving back in the spirit of Ramadan is very important as Muslims will try to place themselves in the shoes of the poor and do good deeds within their communities.
Sharing your greetings of “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak” is a courteous and polite way of sharing blessings with Muslims during this time. Dressing in a modest fashion is required, so be sure to wear loose clothing that covers the knees and elbows. Non-Muslims are required to respect those who fast by avoiding any eating, drinking and smoking activities while in public areas. Restaurants will continue to serve food as per usual to non-fasters. 

Those who are looking to immerse themselves in the culture of the UAE will especially enjoy visiting the souks and markets during the time of Ramadan. If you are in Dubai, you can also pay a visit to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in the age-old Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood to learn about the origins of Dubai. Non-Muslims who would like to try fasting for a day are welcome to do so - just make sure to enjoy a healthy and nutritious iftar and suhoor to sustain your body.

If you are invited to an iftar, it is polite to accept the invitation and it’s a great way to experience this special time of year while enjoying the UAE culture. Take a gift for your host along with you, such as dates to show your appreciation. You can also visit the local restaurants during Ramadan if you would like to try out the traditional Arabic main dishes and sweets.

Eid al-Fitr occurs immediately after the Holy Month of Ramadan to celebrate with family and friends, eat large feasts of traditional foods, don new Eid clothing and enjoy the festivities. Eid is a bustling time of year across the UAE and a public holiday that is usually as long as 3 days. Eid al-Adha is the second Eid of the year and takes place approximately 70 days after Ramadan ends. It is also a public holiday that lasts up to 3 or 4 days. 

Ramadan is without a doubt a very special time of the year for Muslims as they atone for their sins, and cleanse their body and mind, while also giving back to the poor. Be sure to respect this time of year and take part in the traditions and cuisine if you are a non-Muslim living in the UAE.