The holy month of Ramadan is a month of fasting for Muslims worldwide in commemoration of the revelation of their Holy Book, the Qu’ran, to the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims will refrain from food and drink from dawn till dusk, only breaking their fast with dates at sunset. In many ways, Ramadan is the best month to visit Dubai to experience Islamic traditions. However, there are various things to consider when visiting a Muslim country at this time of year, and an understanding of the local culture can ensure you remain respectful.
The traditional greeting in Ramadan is “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak,” and this can often be heard during the holy month. If you wish to get involved and participate in local tradition, spread this greeting.
One of the main cultural considerations during Ramadan is eating, drinking, smoking and chewing gum in public. All the aforementioned practices are prohibited and can be punishable of up to a month in jail or a fine of up to Dhs 2,000 (USD$545) (according to Article 313 of the UAE Penal Code). This applies to everyone, irrespective of faith. By rule of thumb, refrain from eating, drinking, smoking or chewing outside the comfort of your hotel room/home or within the allotted restaurants.
In terms of restaurants, many are closed until sunset. However, in recent years, Dubai has become increasingly lenient, allowing several places to continue serving food during the day to non-fasters. These restaurants will have dark sheets covering their windows and will only permit dining inside.
Dubai has also recently relaxed its rules regarding the sale of alcohol during Ramadan, which was previously only permissible after sunset. However, interested in offering a ‘superlative visitor experience’ in line with their vision of being a leading tourist destination, the city has permitted bars and nightclubs to serve alcohol throughout the day.
Many cinemas, theme parks and other entertainment facilities also have designated areas where food is served to non-fasters.
In general, working and school days are shorter, beginning in the later in the morning and finishing mid-afternoon. According to UAE labour law, normal working hours should be reduced by two hours during Ramadan, making the average working day around six hours long. While this does not specify only Muslim fasting employees, the Employment Law of Dubai International Financial Centre specifically refers to Muslims, stating that they don’t have to work longer than six hours.
These shorter working hours may extend to smaller businesses. Generally, however, most malls and shops are not affected by this. They open at their usual times (around 10am) but are actually open for much longer than usual, closing well after midnight. Be sure to double check opening times before setting out.
Many malls, theme parks, major landmarks and attractions are comparatively empty during the day. You can easily skip the busy crowds that characterise the vibrant city, making Ramadan one of the best times to visit Dubai. Ramadan is also not traditionally the peak tourist season due to high temperatures. This can work in your favour as you can visit landmarks and tourist hubs without the usual crowds. However, following sunset, when Muslims go out to celebrate the end of their fast, the subsequent rush can be overwhelming and traffic can be chaotic. If you wish to dine out, it would be helpful to reserve a table ahead of time as restaurants are packed and waiting times can be very long.
During Ramadan, you also have the advantage of watching the city change from a deserted and quiet haven in the mornings to a buzzing and vivacious hub of activity come sunset. If you’re willing to brave the crowds, be sure to venture out to malls where there are various dance, music and drama performances from around the world.
Ramadan is a sensitive time and all efforts to be respectful should be made. One of the ways in which you can prevent offending fasters is by refraining from playing loud music. Whether in your car or strolling through malls, music is prohibited. Using headphones, however, is perfectly acceptable.
It is advised to make more of an effort to dress conservatively during the holy month. While Dubai is very lenient, it would be preferable to refrain from wearing revealing, tight and short clothes to prevent offending locals. Generally covering yourself from your shoulders to your knees is advised for both men and women.
Public displays of affection are already considered disrespectful in Dubai, especially between unmarried couples. This is heightened during Ramadan and can be very offensive, so refrain from touching and kissing in public spaces.
Another important consideration is traffic. As previously mentioned, traffic can be very difficult after sunset as people rush to iftar parties (see below). A combination of the side effects caused by hunger and heat makes the roads unsafe during the day as well. As a result, road accidents peak. Luckily, Road Safety UAE provides a guide advising you on how best to navigate the roads safely during this time of year.
Along with relatively empty malls and attractions, you can enjoy exclusive Ramadan offers. Motiongate and Dubai Resorts and Parks, for example, are offering slashed ticket prices or vouchers during Ramadan. Most shops offer discounts on clothes, toys, accessories etc, particularly towards the end of the month in the lead up to Eid-ul-Fitr, and various eateries have exclusive Ramadan and iftar deals.
Iftar is the evening meal, taken after the evening Maghrib prayer to mark the end of a day of fasting. Iftar is a joyous occasion as friends and family gather to enjoy a meal together – consisting of multiple courses and cuisine from across the globe, it is a veritable feast. Many restaurants host unique iftar get-togethers and, as mentioned previously, you can avail some great offers. It is also common for locals to generously invite non-Muslims to witness the festivities. If you’re invited to an iftar party, it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Emirati culture and the traditions associated with the holy month.
Haq Al Laila is a Ramadan tradition unique to Emirati heritage. Similar to trick-or-treat, it involves children walking around their neighbourhoods collecting sweets and nuts from their community. As with iftar, local families often invite non-local children to join in, spreading the joy and excitement of this timeless occasion.
Check out our article on Ramadan traditions around the world to learn more about this practice.
Eid ul-Fitr is a celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. A lavish affair, it is a national holiday and lasts for three days. For Muslims, Eid is an opportunity for families to dress in their finest clothes and visit friends, family and neighbours bearing gifts and food.
Malls, theme parks and other attractions remain open, and you can enjoy some great discounts during this period. However, as offices and schools are closed, these major attractions can get very busy with chaotic traffic as people make the most of their days off.