The date of Ramadan varies every year and corresponds to the beginning of the ninth month of the lunar calendar. It is believed that at this time, Allah began to transmit the teachings of Islam to the Prophet Mohammed, which was subsequently covered in the Quran. In 2023, the holy month will last from the evening of March 23rd to the evening of April 21st.
For 30 days, Muslims keep a strict fast called saum. Believers are forbidden to eat, drink and smoke during daylight hours. Fasting is observed by adults and children over 12 years old, however fasting does not apply to women who are menstruating, nursing mothers, pregnant women, diabetics, long-distance travelers, as well as seriously ill people.
The meal before sunrise is called suhur, while the evening meal is known as iftar. Most catering establishments shift their opening hours to a later time for the convenience of those fasting. The strictest period is the last 10 days of fasting as some people prefer to spend this time in seclusion in a mosque, or make a pilgrimage to Mecca.
During this time, UAE tourists do not need to observe fasting, but they have to respect this period and observe certain rules in public places such as:
It is worth remembering that balconies and private vehicles are also public places. In accordance with the UAE Criminal Code, Article 313 (UAE's Federal Law No. 3 of 1987), a fine of up to AED 1,000 (USD 272) or arrest for up to 30 days are given for violation of the rules of conduct during Ramadan.
You need to be prepared that in the evening a large number of people will look for a place to eat, as Muslims are allowed to eat only after sunset. In addition, there will be traffic jams on the roads throughout the emirates. It is better to book tables in cafes and restaurants in advance during the period of Ramadan.
The holy month ends with the Eid Al Fitr, which is part of the state holidays in the UAE. Muslims prepare festive treats, visit each other and give gifts on the days of the holiday.
The working hours of banks and state institutions during the holy month are from 09:00 to 13:00.
During Ramadan, large supermarkets and shops in trade malls in the UAE work according to the usual schedule, until late in the evening or 24/7. Retail outlets also hold different promotions and sales. Smaller stores operate in different ways, those who comply with restrictions schedule their opening hours from 10:00 to 13:00 and from 18:30 to 23:00-24:00.
As for parks and beach areas, these facilities usually operate without changes to their schedule. Most of the landmarks are open, but on a reduced schedule, and may even be closed during the last 10 days of the holy month.
During daylight hours, the majority of UAE food establishments in local areas might be closed. However, there are a number of cafes and restaurants where tourists will still be able to eat and drink during the day. Food is usually taken behind closed doors or behind screens in working food outlets, however since 2021 Dubai has lifted the necessity to use screens to hide food and those eating it, to make this time more tourist-friendly for visitors staying in the emirate. The ban on eating and smoking does not apply to establishments which are located on hotel territory.
During the time of iftar, many cafes and hotels organize buffets or tents for meals. Both locals and tourists can enjoy an iftar; the main thing is that Muslim believers start their meal first.
Restrictions on the sale of alcoholic beverages in the country have been lifted at the state level, but each emirate has the right to adopt its own amendments regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol drinks. If there is no prohibition, alcohol is available only after 19:00 and not in all establishments. Entertainment programmes in cafes and restaurants should also not include live music and dancing.
Tourists may benefit from visiting the UAE during Ramadan because the lowest cost of tours is observed during this month. In addition, hotels reduce prices for accommodation, sometimes by half, due to the off-peak period.
Lotteries and raffle competitions with valuable prizes are often held in shopping centers during Ramadan. The majority of stores have discounts reaching approximately 70% and all major retail chains announce their sale for the Ramadan period in advance. Dubai World Trade Center will host a 15-day super sale in 2023 where you will be able to make purchases in branded stores such as Hummer, Paris Hilton, Rihanna, etc. Visitors can also find a large selection of toys, electronics and cosmetics here. Another event is the Dubai Duty Free which will offer customers a 20% discount.