Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and a very important period in the life of every Muslim.
Its beginning and end dates, as well as its length, varies slightly from year to year, based to the observation of the crescent moon.
Every year during this Holy month, from sunrise to sunset Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking or engaging in marital relations. They also take time to pray, do charity work and dedicate time to their loved ones, such as family and friends.
As Westerners in a Muslim country, it is important for us to be even more respectful and tactful than usual during this time of the year.
Furthermore, even if we are not fasting, this month of contemplation can be a great opportunity for personal introspection and charity work, as well as to stop and think how grateful we are for our life and all the great people we met on our path.
Living in Abu Dhabi there are certain habits that we should practice all year long, but during Ramadan this becomes even more important.
The fundamental things we need to remember are:
- We need to dress conservatively. Knees and shoulders, for both men and women, need to be covered. It is also appropriate to wear loose fitting clothing and nothing that can be considered offensive, such as t-shirts with rude slogans.
- To show respect to those fasting, we need to refrain from smoking, eating and drinking in public. Even a sip from a water bottle should be taken in private and chewing a gum is also not appropriate. Most restaurants and cafes around the city are closed during the day and reopen at sunset, however if we are really hungry we can eat in the privacy of our home or in those establishments that screen their windows from outside looks, such as Jones The Grocer, which is scattered in several locations around Abu Dhabi.
- Refraining from PDA is also particularly important. Kissing or cuddling one’s spouse or friends of the opposite sex is not appropriate all year round, but it is especially so during this Holy month.
- During the day, Muslims dedicate their time to prayer and reflection, hence peace and quiet are essential. We need to refrain from playing loud music, for instance in our car, or being too noisy in public spaces.
During Ramadan there are also things that we are encouraged to do:
- Exchanging Ramadan greetings is a lovely and appreciated gesture. To our Muslim colleagues and friends, we usually say ‘Ramadan Kareem’ (literally: “I wish you a generous Ramadan”).
- Being charitable is an important part of Ramadan, as during this month Muslims donate 2,5% of their annual savings to the less fortunate. If we have no time to dedicate to volunteer at an animal shelter or with another charitable association of our choice, we can donate clothes, money or food to those who need it the most. Many collections initiatives are advertised during this period so it is easy to get involved.
- Being for a long period of time without food or water is a very hard thing to do and can create havoc on one’s sleeping and working patterns, so as well as being respectful we have to be considerate and patient with those around us who are observing the fast.
Most shopping centers, museums, sport centers and other establishments change their timetable during Ramadan, opening a few hours in the morning, closing in the early afternoon, and re-opening after sunset until late night. It is always a good idea to check first whenever travelling to go somewhere, but with a bit of planning this does not cause any trouble at all.
During the month of Ramadan, most restaurants will open only at sunset, and offer an all-you-can-eat buffet, known as Iftar.
Going out for Iftar with your friends of family is not only a time to socialise but also a time to celebrate life and relationships, so we are always happy to go along when we are invited!
Most restaurants have sumptious buffets with a wide choice of savoury and sweet food, meat and vegetarian options, as well as fruit juices and traditional drinks. In most places it is a good idea to book in advance, especially if you are planning to be in a group.
After the iftar, many hotels and restaurants have also Suhoor tents, which open a bit later in the night and serve food until the early hours of the morning. Many will have a zone dedicated also to the traditional Shisha smoking.
When Ramadan finishes, it is time for a national holiday called Eid. Everyone is usually off work or at home from school for a few days, and often people take this chance to travel.
It is important to exchange Eid greetings with friends and colleagues, such as saying Eid Mubarak (literally: “Have a blessed Eid”) and it is nice also to exchange gifts. Hampers with dates or chocolates are a quite popular option.
Being a Westerner in Abu Dhabi during Ramadan can be an amazing cultural and personal experience, and so far we have loved it.