What is Ramadan?
The UAE is an Islamic country, and the Islamic religion pervades all aspects of life, from social life to business etiquette and behavior. This is most particularly apparent during the holy month of Ramadan, which falls in the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar every year, and is said to be the time when the holy Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.
This is a very special time for Muslims across the globe. During Ramadan, Muslims increase their time of spiritual reflection, worship, and devotion, and are expected to put more effort into charitable behaviors.
This is also a time for greater restraint where they generally refrain from bad behavior, hurtful speech, and sexual relations.
What happens during Ramadan?
During the month of Ramadan, all adult Muslims are expected to fast from dawn until sunset, with the exception of those who are ill, pregnant, travelling, or elderly.
The month of Ramadan lasts for 29-30 days, and its end is signaled by the visual sighting of the crescent moon, followed by the holiday of Eid-al-Fitr and the beginning of the next lunar month.
Since the month of Ramadan is a very auspicious time for Muslims, it is important for non-Muslims to be sensitive to the cultural restraints and behavioral expectations, particularly if residing in or visiting a Muslim country during this time.
Although Ramadan is very low-key in many parts of the world, in the UAE, all residents, irrespective of their religion, are expected to follow the laws set out at this time of the year. Behavioral transgressions are taken very seriously and any perceived disrespect towards the religion could land the offender in serious trouble.
What to avoid during Ramadan
Below, we look at the 7 most common mistakes to avoid during this time of year.
1. Do not drink or eat in public during Ramadan
This law is enforced in the UAE, and it is forbidden for non-Muslims to eat or drink anywhere outside other than designated places during fasting hours.
Most offices will have a pantry or a staff area where drinking and eating are allowed. Eating and drinking in your vehicle is also prohibited, and if you must do so, ensure that you are very discreet. Most restaurants are closed during lunchtime and only offer takeaway, although those in hotels will still serve food behind closed doors.
These laws do not apply to children, and although it is acceptable for little ones to eat in public, courtesy asks that a certain amount of discretion is exercised here as well. Chewing gum is also prohibited.
2. Do not wear clothes that are offensive
During this month, it is best to dress conservatively, covering your shoulders and knees. Refrain from wearing clothes that are sheer, revealing, or too tight, particularly when visiting public spaces such as a mall, iftar tent, or restaurant.
Make sure your knees and shoulders are covered; avoid shorts, short skirts, or mini-dresses.
3. Be aware of workplace mannerisms
Business schedules are bound to change during the holy month of Ramadan, and visitors should keep their schedules flexible to account for shortage working hours.
Business meetings with Muslims should be scheduled earlier in the day when they are less tired, and care should be taken to avoid scheduling meetings during lunch hour or close to prayer timings. If offered refreshments by a Muslim, it is considered polite to refuse as a sign of respect.
4. Avoid public displays of affection
This is a definite no-no even when it is not Ramadan, but is particularly frowned upon at this time of the year.
5. Check event details during this month
During the month of Ramadan, it is important to double check schedules of any events you plan to attend. Restaurants are usually very crowded at the hour of sunset, as this is the time Muslims partake in Iftar, which is the meal they eat upon breaking their fast.
As offices and most establishments close early, rush hour traffic is likely to occur earlier during the day, typically from around 3 to 5 in the afternoon, when everyone is rushing home for Iftar.
6. Do not listen to loud music in public places
During the holy month, most establishments will not play any music, and live music entertainment is prohibited. Avoid driving with loud music blaring out of an open car window, as this is likely to attract some complaints.
Many dance clubs are also closed during this time and many bars will not serve alcohol, although those in hotels will do so after Iftar.
7. Do not smoke in public
As with eating and drinking, smoking in public places is prohibited. If you must do so, find a private place where the smoke is non-offensive to those who are fasting.