Ramadan in Dubai …My view.
With 9 years in Dubai behind me I know what to expect during Ramadan.
Is there anything you should do differently during Ramadan? What’s the atmosphere like in and out of hotels and malls? Are public services affected? Will coffee shops and restaurants be open normally? Find out why people wait till Ramadan to buy new cars!
When is Ramadan in Dubai this year?
This year Ramadan is likely to fall between June 18 and July 17 lasting roughly a month. Each year it starts a little earlier as per the Lunar calendar. Interestingly Hindu festivals also follow the Lunar calendar but are always roughly at the same time, for example Diwali is always in October or November, and Holi the festival of colour is always in March.
The period of Ramadan is actually classed as a community/family event in the official calendar of events according to the Dubai Calendar so it’s a good idea to think of it that way despite some restrictions !
What is the atmosphere like during Ramadan in Dubai ?
We have lived in Dubai for around nine years and for every one of those years we have been in Dubai for part of Ramadan. We are not Muslim so we don’t fast during Ramadan; we have not found it a difficult time though.
It’s a time of reflection and prayer so there isn’t any loud music played in hotels even after the fasting period. It’s a good idea to dress even more modestly than you would normally in Dubai simply because it’s Ramadan. That doesn’t mean you need to cover up completely, but just be a little more aware that people around you are in a more spiritual and quieter mode than is normally the case for the vibrant city of Dubai.
The hectic pace of life in Dubai during Ramadan seems a little slower with government offices and schools closing earlier than normal so children and adults can get home to break their fast in time. This year schools will start at 8.30am and end at 1. 30pm during Ramadan.
What do you do differently during Ramadan when you live in Dubai?
Ramadan is also a time for almsgiving and charitable activity, helping those in need. We make it a practise to give our gardeners and security guards, who are fasting, a little extra money during Ramadan. This money is known as Eidi, and is for their Eid presents and or celebratory Eid meal that happens at the end of the month of fasting.
Some people wait to buy new cars at Ramadan as there are great deals around and good service packages too. Some wealthier residents also gift cars to their friends and family as Eid presents!
What are Ramadan Tents ?
Mini Ramadan tents are set up all around Dubai. These tents are places where people are provided an opportunity (at the most basic level) to conveniently break their fasts with some dates, water and juice before a more substantial Iftar meal soon after.
The Ramadan tents are at their most elaborate in five star hotels. Quite ornately decorated Ramadan tents are sometimes set up on the beach side, they are not only designed to facilitate eating and drinking (non alcoholic drinks) but to allow for general get togethers during the hours when eating is allowed. It is a common scene to see people playing board games and smoking sheesha together, although tents overpowered by the smell and smoke of sheesha are not to everyone’s taste.
The Mamemo Majlis
This year the Four Seasons hotel has a contemporary 2 storey Glass Ramadan tent overlooking the sea! The space has been called The Mamemo Majlis and it’s their interpretation of the traditional Ramadan tent. At Dhs 260 for a lavish Iftar buffet, I think this will definitely be one to try this Ramadan in Dubai. They are also serving a Suhour meal at Dhs 190, but much later. This year they have sponsors that include Cadillac Arabia and Roger Dubuis watches, maybe providing some inspiration for gift ideas?
Can you eat during the day in Ramadan?
For those people who are not fasting it is absolutely possible to eat and drink during the fasting period of Ramadan. The philosophy of the country is firstly not to eat, drink or chew gum publicly to show respect towards those who are fasting. Secondly, it’s a community wide fast, so empathizing with those who are fasting is appropriate. Those who don’t fast sometimes join in the fasting practise for short periods and experience what it feels like to go through the day without food and drink.
This is why most restaurants in shopping malls and independent restaurants in areas such as Dubai Marina, Meena Bazaar and Al Wasl road are all closed during the day. There are some places you may be able to take out food or drink, but you cannot sit at a restaurant and eat or drink publicly.
But this does not mean that you cannot go shopping in a mall and not get any food or drink. Some restaurants in malls are directly connected to hotels which remain open as normal; for example the restaurants in the Mall of the Emirates that are directly connected to the Kempinski Hotel are easy to access.
The exception to the rule is the area known as DIFC, the financial centre and now also an art hub in Dubai. It also operates with slightly different rules in that all the restaurants there despite not being attached to hotels are open during Ramadan as normal. I recommend Royal China, a Chinese that serves food very like London Chinese food!
What to Expect During Ramadan in Dubai Hotels?
While food outlets in hotels remain open during the day, not all serve alcohol during the day and some bars are open only after sunset when fasting is broken.
However, there are sometimes very good deals offered by hotels during Ramadan in Dubai, so if you are here and schools are on holiday, you could investigate a staycation and experience some of Dubai’s very lavish hotels!
This year the Grand Hyatt hotel in Dubai is offering a Ramadan Cultural Discovery Map as part of their Ramadan Cultural Stay Package that includes discount vouchers from Arabian Adventures for their evening tours. But it also suggests visiting coffee museums, Islamic Art Galleries and many more culturally relevant things to do and see during Ramadan. Their Iftar is well known in the region as it brings together top chefs from Syria, Egypt and Beirut.
One year we stayed at the Dar Al Masyaf villas that form part of the Al Qasr in Jumeirah. We had access to Mina A Salam (that has a great indoor pool and gym area) and the Jumeirah Beach hotel too as well as the Wild Wadi waterpark!
Be aware when taking taxis in Dubai during Ramadan
I would suggest you try and work around taking a taxi when time is nearing the end of the fast. All too often taxi drivers are in a big hurry to get to a place to break their fasts; you may find it difficult to get a taxi at this time. I usually avoid driving during this period to avoid slowing up those who appear, understandably to be in an exceptional rush.
So what about food in the evening when fasting has come to an end?
Food at the end of fasting (after the sun has set around 7pm or so) starts with an Iftar; hotels and restaurants offer extensive buffets for this meal. But remember these Ifar buffets will close around 9pm for the setting up of dinner! Then there is a final Suhour meal quite late at night or early in the morning.
If you are resident here, you may be invited to an Iftar hosted by a friend who is fasting. We have been to Iftars where biriyanis, samosas, pakodas and puris feature highly! Every year I notice more and more in the media about the importance of not overeating on heavy, fried foods for Iftar and about the dangers of not exercising. A determined effort to control the increasing number of diabetics across the UAE is usually highlighted during this period.
If you are wondering what to give as a gift for an Iftar you are invited to, then have a look at the selection of specially prepared Patchi gift boxes that will literally fly off the shelves during Ramadan! You could also consider buying something from Bateel as well. Tip : Cut your chunky Patchi chocolates up on a board with a sharp knife into 4 or more pieces! They last longer but more importantly, you’ll eat fewer of them..try it!
If you would like to experience a hotel Iftar then I suggest the Four Seasons Iftar. Firstly because of the gorgeous setting on Jumeirah beach and secondly their very modern interpretation of the Iftar tent Mamemo Majlis made of glass! They also have a Suq eating area that has 6 live cooking stations and features an 18 flavour ice cream station too – sure to be a hit with the children!
Wishing everyone a peaceful Ramadan and relaxing summer break! Do share this to people who may not be aware of what to expect during Ramadan in Dubai.