Expatriates and tourists: Understand Ramadan to avoid trouble with the law


Gulf countries such as the UAE have strict municipal laws governing behavior in public during Ramadan.

Ignorance of the basic tenets of Ramadan may not only offend observers but can land expatriates and tourists in hot water with the authorities for breaching religious rules.

For example: Expatriates and tourists living or visiting the United Arab Emirates or in short called UAE may have the best intentions of not offending residents but goodwill cannot replace basic knowledge and proper etiquette when it comes to showing respect for religious customs being practised during Ramadan, say educators.

According to the Dubai-based Eton Institute, a recent survey in the UAE revealed that 72 per cent of respondents said they had very little knowledge of local customs while 25 per cent said they had never tried to learn about local culture.

Another survey reported that 71 per cent of respondents agreed that knowledge of the UAE’s culture and traditions should be a requirement for expatriates wanting to live in the country.

Majd Sheeha, head of the Arabic Department at Eton Institute in Dubai, said Ramadan is a time when adherents “remember the suffering of the poor and the hungry and feel what they feel; it is an exercise in self-control, patience and endurance to stay away from bad habits”.

In Dubai, it is against the law to eat or drink during sunlight hours when worshippers are fasting.

At the beginning and the end of the day’s fast at sunrise and sunset, cannons are fired at points across the city to let worshippers know the precise times in the day, Sheeha said.

The sounds of the cannon also let expats know that the daily fast is done and people can resume eating and drinking in public for the evening, she said.

It may seem obvious, but other bad habits such as using profanity and smoking are also highly frowned upon during the daily fast when worshippers are attempting to reach a higher spiritual and physical plain.

During this month, Muslims believe “the gates of paradise are opened and the gates of hell are closed and the Devil is gone”.

Ramadan is a time when UAE residents seek mercy at the beginning of the month, forgiveness in the middle and freedom from fire in the latter part of the month when adherents seek a closer affinity with God.

Sheeha offered several recommendations for expatriates to help themselves and others enjoy this time of the year.

Given the numerous iftar and suhour invitations, Sheeha said it is a good idea to return the sentiments of the person or organisation doing the inviting.

1) “If you are invited to attend an iftar, never hesitate,” she said.

2) At a time when many are seeking a higher awareness of the suffering of others, Ramadan is a good time to donate time or money to charitable missions in the country. “Give a dollar a day to charity,” she said.

3) Sheeha advised expatriates to be especially careful when driving at or around sunset given the traffic density due to to people heading back home for iftar and home to be with family to break the fast.

4) Do not disturb worshippers when they are deep in thought reading the Quran, she advised, noting people should “wait until they are finished [to approach them]”.

To assist expatriates during Ramadan, Eton Institute is offering a Ramadan app that is free for the asking.