The Holy Month is an extra special time in the Middle East. If you’re a new expat or tourist, these are some of the traditions, rules, and Arabic phrases you should know.

The importance of Ramadan

The first thing to know is Ramadan is considered one of the holiest Islamic months and is one of the five pillars of Islam. It’s a time of fasting for Muslims – not eating or drinking anything during daylight hours. It is also a time of prayer, personal reflection, and giving back to the community.

You’ll notice a beautiful feeling of calm and wellbeing in the air. If it’s your first time experiencing Ramadan it will likely leave a lasting impression.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar. This year, it will begin on 22 March and end on 22 April. A new crescent moon marks the start of Ramadan, while a new moon sighting signifies the end.

The main terms

Iftar – This is the meal at sunset where Muslims break their fast. Most restaurants offer sumptuous buffets with a wide selection of food, so it’s a great opportunity to sample some traditional fare and soak in the happy vibe. Check out our top picks of Dubai places to enjoy a delicious iftar this Ramadan.

Suhoor – This is the meal before Muslims start their fast – a very early breakfast before sunrise. It usually takes place at home with the family; however, you will find some restaurants open for suhoor. See our favourite suhoors for this year in our guide.

Maghrib – This is the prayer performed at sunset that marks the start of iftar when Muslims can eat again. Quite often the TV will show Ramadan timing and countdowns.

Fajr – This is the first prayer as the sun rises, marking when Muslims need to start their fast again.

Taraweeh and Isha – Taraweeh is an evening prayer performed during Ramadan, in addition to the nightly Isha prayer which is one of the five daily prayers.

Ramadan Mubarak” and “Ramadan Kareem” – Ramadan Mubarak means “Blessed Ramadan” and is often used in the same way as wishing somebody “Happy Ramadan”. You’ll also see/hear “Ramadan Kareem” which translates as “Generous Ramadan.” Both are warm greetings that you can offer.

Staying respectful

While Ramadan is a time of celebration and joy, there are a few rules that you should follow to respect those observing the Holy Month. Don’t eat, drink, or smoke in public during daylight hours (there may be a fine if you do!). Restaurants are open though – see below.

You should also dress more conservatively to show your respect.

Don’t play loud music from your car and keep your headphones volume down as it may be considered offensive to those who are observing Ramadan.

In general, just use common sense and you’ll be fine.

Shops, restaurants, and attractions

Most businesses will be operating as usual and you can enjoy all that Dubai has to offer – with a bonus of lights and festive decorations!

Some restaurants may be closed during the day.

Get involved

Ramadan is a time when people get together with their families, reflect on their actions, pray, and support their communities. There are also plenty of ways that non-Muslims can get involved and experience the joy of the Holy Month.

Give a meal – Just one meal can make a big difference for those less fortunate. You can cook something at home or pay for someone else’s bill at a restaurant. This is a great way of giving back in Ramadan.

Gift new clothes – During Eid Al Fitr (the holiday that signifies the end of Ramadan) people usually wear new clothes to signify a new beginning. Many charity organisations gather clothes for those who can’t afford them, such as orphans or the elderly. This is sure to put a smile on people’s faces.

Watch out for mall stands – Most malls in the region will have small stands with various charities to choose from. You can choose the one that best resonates with you and contribute with any amount of money that you can. Every grain of sand counts.