The meal to break the fast is called ‘Iftar’ and many restaurants serve all-you-can-eat Iftar buffets at generous prices. Seeing famished fasters staring down at their food while waiting for the sunset call to prayer is a common sight. Ramadan’s generosity extends to the stores in the mall, with some great sales on at this time of year.
The word ‘Ramadan’ is derived from the Arabic root word ‘Ramida’ meaning ‘scorched heat’ or ‘parched thirst’. And anyone who fasts in this part of the world will fully understand those terms.
Many Muslims break their fast with dates and juice before their main meal, and gas stations offer free dates and water to travellers. If you’re on the roads at this time, beware: car accidents increase in the half hour before iftar as hungry fasters rush home to be with their families.
For expats, Ramadan is a time to show respect for the sentiments of participating Muslims. While not expected to practice Ramadan themselves, in the UAE it is illegal for adults to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours for the whole month (unless you’re elderly, ill, pregnant, nursing or menstruating, and even then, it’s better to be discreet). This extends to travelling in a car. Even chewing gum could be seen as an offence. Most cafes and restaurants are closed all day, although some have a closed-off area for serving non-fasters. Supermarkets remain open and hotels cater for tourists, but the city has a different feel about it. No music is allowed, many nightclubs are closed and there are no concerts or festivals.
So, during Ramadan, night becomes day, the malls are open until 1am, and kids are kept up until all hours. And it’s not just lifestyles that change – work life is different, too. Muslims will generally work fewer hours and not much gets done during Ramadan. Where I work, no advertising is expected in the magazine for the whole month, and eating or drinking at your desk is not permitted.
The last 10 days of the month are especially significant since it is believed that the Quran, the Holy Book of the Muslims, was first revealed to the Prophet during this time. Although the actual date is unknown, many Muslims believe it was the 27th night of the month, and many stay up praying all night.
As with the beginning of Ramadan, the end is confirmed when the moon-sighting committee spots the new moon and a public holiday – Eid al Fitr – follows, involving feasting and visiting family and friends – a celebration similar to Christmas or Thanksgiving.