Traveling to Dubai during Ramadan

Ramadan in the UAE: what tourists need to know

Photo of a mosque


An unfamiliar country with a different religion is always a kind of challenge for the traveler. Will the foreigner be able to observe the local decency so that his own comfort is not violated?

Especially many questions arise from those who come to Ramadan in the UAE: what do tourists need to know not to violate the local laws, not to offend the feelings of believing Muslims and still have a good rest. UAEtours specially prepared a short article on the subject.

What is Ramadan and when and how it is celebrated?

Photo of a mosque in UAE

In the Islamic lunar calendar the ninth month – Ramadan – is holy. Muslims honor it because it is believed that at this time the prophet Mohammed began to accept the teachings of Islam from Allah, in order to later compile this knowledge into the Koran, the holy book. The essence of this holiday is expressed by saying that during Ramadan the gates of paradise are open and the gates of hell are closed and the demons are in chains.

No, only adults observe the fast. In the UAE, teenagers who have reached the age of 12 are considered adults and therefore must fast during Ramadan.

The Islamic calendar does not follow the Gregorian calendar, which is used in our days of reckoning, and every year the beginning of Ramadan begins 11 days earlier.

The fasting during Ramadan is called saum, and is not restricted in the nature of food, as in the Christian Orthodox fasts. But it is considerably stricter, for in saum the prohibitions on eating relate to the time of day. Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink during the daylight hours, and men are not allowed to smoke.

This strict fast is observed during the month of Ramadan by all Muslims who are at least 12 years old (from this point on the person is considered an adult). Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating are exempt from the fast, as are diabetics regardless of gender or age and those who are seriously ill. Travelers who have a difficult long journey may not observe the fast in all its rigor.

The early morning meal, which should be taken before sunrise, is called suhur, and the evening meal, which begins after sunset, is called iftar.

Between those two meals not even chewing gum can be taken in the mouth – the mouth of a Muslim must be empty. By the way, it is also considered a violation of saum if water gets into the mouth accidentally while swimming or bathing.

Yes, even tourists are required to fast during Ramadan. There are some establishments in the country that are more loyal to holidaymakers, and therefore tourists can eat in them during the day. But such institutions are very few.

What tourists need to know when visiting the UAE during Ramadan

  1. With the onset of Ramadan, foreigners must obey the universal rule: they, like Muslims, are prohibited in public places to eat, drink and smoke. This applies not only to the streets and places where you can do it all at other times, but also to private vehicles! This means that a tourist who has rented a car cannot even smoke or drink water in it.
  2. It is very strict with alcohol during Ramadan: Not only is it not allowed to drink it during the day, but it is not even possible to buy it. Even in the hotel bars, no one is poured until the sun goes down.
  3. But in the UAE, famous for its tolerant attitude to other religions and secular society in general, exceptions are made for non-Muslim foreigners. For example, there are catering establishments where you can go to eat during the day, but there are few such restaurants and cafes, and the rest are closed until evening. Some organizations allocate smoking rooms for visitors. went further than everyone else and decided that the sale and pouring of alcohol may be allowed in establishments that have received the appropriate license. So if you try hard you may find the right place (though there are very few of them in the UAE).
  4. The cultural and entertainment program of tourists also undergoes changes: sightseeing cut time of visit (they open later, close earlier, there is also a big break in the middle of the day), and in the last decade of Ramadan schedule is reduced to 2-3 hours of work per day (some attractions at this time even stop working).
  5. As for entertainment, in the strict fasting period it is recommended to avoid mass entertainment with songs and dances, so in a restaurant even during the permitted meal you will not hear live music, not to mention amusement parks and discos, which generally do not work until the end of Ramadan.
  6. There are no special clothing requirements for foreigners, or, rather, they are the same as for the rest of the time. But while before Ramadan, the police may look the other way if a girl’s neckline is a little deeper or her skirt a little shorter than the rules prescribe, during that month they are strict – up to fines and harsher punishments. So it’s not worth the risk.
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How to behave in the evening.

Evening in UAE

You have to be prepared that in the city after sunset you will still have to look for a place to eat. After all, everyone who hasn’t eaten, drank or smoked all day rushes to the places where you can finally do it all!

A couple of years ago in Abu Dhabi, Iftar was heralded by the sound of cannon fire. The Muslims, hungry for the day, perceived this sound as the sound of a starting gun and rushed to where they could eat, drink and smoke.

Some hurry to cafes and restaurants, where there isn’t room for an apple to drop by the last sunset, while others hurry home, where the table is already laid for the family iftar. As a result, Ramadan evenings are marked by traffic jams and a large number of accidents: there are a large number of hungry and lazy, tired people at the wheel.

If a tourist is invited to a family or other iftar, one must not refuse. Upon arrival, the host is given candy and flowers. Treats are taken with the right hand. It is considered disrespectful to get up from the table and leave right after a meal.

There is another evening meal option: near mosques public tables are laid and tents are set up for charity iftar. Anyone can come and eat there. These tents and tables are served by restaurants, so the quality is guaranteed. By the way, the biggest public table was set up in 2013 in Sharjah. It was a kilometer long and 2,500 people were able to eat at it.

If you do not plan to leave the territory of the hotel on vacation, you may not even notice that the country celebrates Ramadan. Hotels are not subject to the requirements of the holy month. The main advantage of traveling to the UAE during Ramadan is the low cost of packages and a small number of vacationers in hotels.

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Positive points

Why go to the UAE during Ramadan? First, during this time the lowest prices for tours. The poor occupancy rate of hotels forces hoteliers to cut prices for rooms sometimes by half. You can get great discounts for tours in five-star hotels on the first line. Room inventory is free, you can choose any room to your liking and check in immediately.

If a person comes to the Emirates without special cultural requirements and are only interested in the hotel and the beach, the tourist will not feel the difference with other months. The hotel does not have Ramadan requirements for its guests, they can drink, eat and smoke whenever they want. But when they leave a hotel, they should reckon with Muslims and behave decently.

By the way, it’s categorically not welcomed to appear in a state of intoxication on the street. If at other times it results in a reprimand, during Ramadan the guest may be subjected to very strict measures, up to deportation. So if you’ve been drinking, stay in your room.

And you can go out for a stroll at the night market. Merchants begin their work when darkness falls, and at this time you can buy very profitable, if you start haggling with them, they often give in. It is considered that all good deeds during the Ramadan return a hundredfold and will be credited to the Muslim.

Ramadan in the UAE

Most Russian tourists only know that Ramadan is the Muslim holy month. But they have no idea how it affects their vacation in the hot Islamic countries. In this article we will talk about the peculiarities of rest during the month of Ramadan in the United Arab Emirates. Is it convenient to rest at this time? What are the pros and cons?

On November 8, 2020, important amendments to the laws of the UAE came into force. The amendments also affected the rules for tourists during Ramadan. Details below in this article.

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Ramadan 2022 is over

This article was updated on May 2, 2022, and just as the holy month of Ramadan ended (May 1 was the last day of the month). As a reminder, the exact dates are determined by the lunar calendar and can change even on the last day.

Regardless of the start and end dates, Eid al-Fitr (the holiday at the end of Ramadan) days off are May 2, 3, and 4, which are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

What is Ramadan

Praying in a mosque

Ramadan (or Ramadan) is the 9th month of the lunar Islamic calendar. It is believed that it was during this month that Allah began to impart the teachings of Islam to the Prophet Mohammed, which were then compiled into the book of the Qur’an.

Muslims consider this to be the most blessed time of the year. As a companion of the Prophet Mohammed, al-Hurairah, said, “In Ramadan, the gates of paradise open, the gates of hell are shut, and all demons are put in chains.”

When is the month of Ramadan?

Recall that the months in the Islamic lunar calendar do not coincide with the months in the Gregorian calendar that we are accustomed to. The month of Ramadan moves forward by about 10 days each year in our calendar.

A month in the Islamic lunar calendar lasts 29 or 30 days, depending on the phases of the moon.

Below is a table with the dates.

Year Islamic year Beginning End
2020 1441 April 23 May 23
2021 1442 April 13 May 12
2022 1443 April 2 May 1
2023 1444 March 22 April 21
2024 1445 March 10 April 9

What Ramadan means to Muslims

The observance of fasting during the month of Ramadan (fasting is called “saum”) is one of the five pillars of Islam, the five acts of worship that every faithful Muslim must perform.

But fasting in Islam is not like Christian fasting. While Christians limit their diet, Muslims do not eat at all, but only from sunrise to sunset. Before sunrise it is allowed to eat, and this meal is called suhur. After sunset, it is allowed to eat after sunset, this meal is called “iftar”.

From sunrise to sunset Muslims can neither eat, nor drink, nor smoke. The prohibition concerns any ingestion of anything, even chewing gum is forbidden. An interesting point is that taking water in the mouth while bathing is also a violation of the fast.

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Fasting is compulsory for all Muslim adults, except for those who are sick, on a difficult journey, pregnant, nursing mothers, diabetics, menstruating women and children under the age of 12.

Any good deed or any sin when performed during Ramadan is amplified. So, haggling with Muslims in this month is a good thing.

Restrictions for tourists in the UAE

Many Islamic countries do not have laws that oblige anyone to fast. But the UAE has a law called the UAE Penal Code Article 313-a. It is forbidden for anyone, including tourists, to drink, eat or do anything that breaks the fast during the daytime hours of Ramadan.

Penalty: Up to 1000 dirhams fine or up to 1 month detention. In practice, tourists are not punished under this article, at least in the press such cases have not been mentioned for a long time. The police usually confine themselves to explanations. If the offender does not listen, they take him to the police station to sit for a while, to calm down, to think.

Cannon firing at the end of fasting time

Since 2018, the authorities of the emirate of Abu Dhabi have been doing a very interesting thing. Near the Sheikh Zayd Mosque they put a gun, its shot notifies people of the end of the fast. If you hear the shot, you can eat, drink and smoke. See the cannon in the photo nearby, click on the photo to enlarge.

There are usually five such guns in Dubai. But in 2022, the Dubai Police installed 11 more cannons in different areas of Dubai City and Hatta. Don’t be surprised that Ramadan artillery cannons are on the police force. This is normal in the UAE.

Tourists are allowed to eat and drink during the day in a restaurant or cafe, but some of the catering establishments are closed during the day. In open-air cafes and restaurants they eat behind closed doors or close the tables with screens. In Dubai in Ramadan 2021 the screens are officially abolished.

Unpleasant news for those tourists who like to rent cars. It is forbidden to eat, drink and smoke even in private transport.

Previously, the law prohibited the sale of alcohol during Ramadan. Only in the emirate of Dubai, some bars received a special license and poured alcohol.

Amendments on November 8, 2020 removed the ban on alcohol during Ramadan. However, each emirate has the right to set its own local bans. And most likely they will. We’ll see.

The dress code does not change in Ramadan, read about the dress code in our article “Laws for tourists in the UAE. However, the strictness of control increases. If in any other month, the police or security guard would not pay attention to too deep cleavage, but in Ramadan, there may be a complaint.

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The sights operate on a reduced schedule, usually with a long break in the middle of the day. In the last 10 days of the month they may close altogether or work a couple of hours a day.

Iftar prayer

Entertainment and fun is not welcome. Live music disappears from restaurants, discos do not work, some amusement parks stop working.

There is no unified law or rule about the opening hours of parks and museums. Each park or museum decides this issue individually. Read our articles about attractions in the UAE, where we detail the opening hours of each site, including during Ramadan.

Other features

Once the sun goes down, eating becomes possible. Often, however, it becomes even more difficult to eat. Many restaurants are packed to the brim, some are busy serving public tables and iftar tents, the order can be waiting for a very long time.

People rush home for family iftar dinners, some rush to the restaurant to have dinner with friends. Traffic during the first hour after sunset is terrible. On top of that, Muslim drivers are tired after a day without water and food, and accidents in that first hour after sundown are “off the charts.”

Good News

Large tables and tents for iftar (evening meals) are set up near mosques. The food at these tables is free of charge. In 2013 near the Al Nour Mosque in the emirate of Sharjah there was a one-kilometer long table. The table accommodated 2,500 people.

In 2021, iftar tables and tents were banned by the authorities. This was a measure against the spread of the coronavirus. This article was updated in January 2022, just at the time of the Omicron outbreak. It is likely that tents will also be banned in Ramadan 2022.

Is it worth traveling to the UAE during Ramadan?

Travel to the UAE during the month of Ramadan has both opponents and supporters. We have already talked about the negatives in detail, now let’s note the positives.

The main positive side is the price decrease. Hotels at this time are filled poorly, and hoteliers are trying to attract tourists with discounts. Discounts of up to 50% during Ramadan are normal.

The second advantage is low congestion of hotels. There are free rooms in almost any hotel, you can check in tomorrow.

If the rest we need only sea, sun and beach, then think. If in other months, a five-star hotel on the first line was clearly unaffordable, then in Ramadan the price may be quite acceptable. In hotels, the ban on eating, smoking and drinking does not apply.

In addition to the holy month, Islam has a holy day of the week – Friday, which has its own features for tourists. Read our review of Friday in the UAE.

Have a good holiday in UAE, and read our interesting and useful articles about this country (links below).

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