Q&A Guide for Non-Muslims Visitors during Ramadan
One of the big areas of concern for non-Muslim visitors to the UAE is how to behave during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
Whilst the basic cultural behaviours for entering a Muslim country can be easy to grasp, there are a few extra steps that visitors need to take during Ramadan to ensure they are being respectful.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the 9th month of the lunar calendar. Following the Hijri calendar, the start date of Ramadan is approximately 10 days earlier each year on the Gregorian calendar. In 20232, Ramadan 1444 will fall over March/April, the exact start date is confirmed by the moon sighting committee.
The moon sighting committee in the UAE will meet around 20/21 March 2023 to confirm the exact start date, expected to be 22 March 2023.
One of the Five Pillars of Worship of Islam – Saum – is fasting during this holy month. Muslims must abstain from eating and drinking (among other things) between sunrise and sunset to teach themselves self-awareness, patience and tolerance. It is said the soul is purified of evil influence and a person’s faith in Allah becomes stronger.
If you are visiting in future years, this is a good source for finding out when Islamic holidays will fall:
What do non-Muslim tourists & residents need to observe during Ramadan in Dubai?
Non-Muslim expat residents and visitors are responsible for making sure there is a suitable environment for Muslims to observe Ramadan. Although you are not expected to join in with the fasting, you must show respect to those who are through your conduct.
Eating, drinking and smoking in public by adults during Ramadan is prohibited.
HOWEVER, contrary to laws that carry fines of up to 2000 AED for eating in public during Ramadan, general practice in Dubai has significantly changed over the last three years. Eating establishments previously needed licenses to operate during daylight hours of Ramadan, and blacked-out windows.
Dubai Department of Economic Development (Dubai Economy) issued a circular on 11 April 2021 stating that restaurants in the emirate will not have to screen visible dining areas during fasting hours in the Holy Month of Ramadan 1442. This was the case again in 2022 and we believe going forward there will be no more screens or sectioning off areas.
Undoubtedly, you are still able to obtain food and drink in hotels and shopping malls now during Ramadan. Walking around eating and drinking in public is most definitely socially unacceptable, if not still illegal.
In the privacy of your own home or hotel room, you can do as you please.
What about children during Ramadan in Dubai?
Younger children, especially those under six years old are not expected to participate in fasting Muslim and Non-Muslim. Pre-pubescent children between seven and 12 years old may start to observe fasting for short periods at a time. On reaching puberty participation by all Muslims (some exceptions mentioned below) is required.
Schools in Dubai will start later and finish earlier during Ramadan. Opening hours will be advised by individual schools but are normally restricted to a maximum of 6 hour days.
For younger children who attend nursery or playgroups, you should see no change, though hours may be reduced. You should freely be able to feed a toddler or young child when they are hungry and dress them as appropriate for the weather.
Exceptions to fasting
There are many circumstances under which a Muslim can be exempted from fasting, including if you are pregnant, diabetic, breastfeeding, menstruating, sick or of old age. The basic premise is that you should not participate if it’s detrimental to your health.
For a non-Muslim who is pregnant or breastfeeding, you should still avoid openly eating or drinking in public, likewise for children between six and 12 years. It may be allowed but even Muslims will do this in a discreet and private way.
If you are travelling through one of the country’s major international airports, you will see full food services operating as travellers are exempt from fasting (Muslims will make up any fasting days while travelling on a later date).
Breaking of the fast – Iftar in Dubai
The fast is broken at maghrib (the sunset prayer time) by the firing of a cannon. This is followed by the sound of azan echoing from the loudspeaker of a mosque.
This has been a tradition in Dubai since the 1960s. In Dubai, five cannons are fired at: Burj Park, Eid prayer grounds in Al Mankhool and Al Baraha, Madinat Jumeirah and Dubai City Walk.
A great side trip you can take is to see the nightly cannon firing at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi – more below!
Iftar is literally the breaking of the fast, the meal taken immediately after sunset. This is a time for families to come together and eat a meal. Usually, an immediate snack of water and dates is taken before prayers, followed by a large meal.
Many of the hotels in Dubai will put together huge buffet extravaganzas and Ramadan dining tents. These were cancelled and reduced during 2020/21 but we saw a full return to Ramadan hospitality in 2022. It is an incredibly unique experience to join in with Iftar celebrations.
A unique experience for tourists to join is the Ramadan Iftar Program, run by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. Join your local hosts for Arabic Coffee and dates, enjoy Iftar then visit the Diwan Mosque.
When is Iftar in Dubai?
Iftar timing varies by city as it occurs at sunset for that exact location. Whilst the cannon is considered the official time, you can estimate the likely time based on when is Maghrib. (NB Dubai is always a few minutes earlier than Abu Dhabi as it is further to the east).
Suhoor in Dubai
As the fast begins again at sunrise, Suhoor is the meal taken immediately before sunrise. Again, many hotels will provide suhoor on a grand scale, some starting suhoor offering from as soon as iftar is cleared and lasting throughout the night.
You will notice Dubai can become an all-night culture during Ramadan!
(Also knowns as Lailat al Qadr) is the Night of Power, when the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by Allah.
The exact date is debated, but it is believed to be an odd date in the last 10 days of Ramadan. For many, prayers intensify in the final 10 days. 27 Ramadan is generally agreed as the night of observation; in 2023 this will be 18 April. It is not a public holiday in the UAE but something for tourists to be mindful of as it’s considered the Holiest of nights.
Other things to be mindful of during Ramadan in Dubai
Ramadan is not only about food, for Muslims, but it is also about abstention – including tobacco, sex, music – and tolerance.
- Appropriate dress standards must be observed in public (much more stringently enforced than usual). All grown-ups (including teens) should be dressed conservatively and look to have arms and legs covered in public – and certainly avoid cleavage and tight clothing. This said, just as dining rules have relaxed in recent years, it seems so have clothing rules – don’t be THAT tourist!
- Hold fire on any public displays of affection, avoid kissing, and even hand-holding between grown-ups (with your child is fine).
- In that hour or so before sunset and Iftar, the patience of many is strongly tested and you may experience some erratic driving. Best to steer clear of the roads, and if going for your evening meal, be mindful of letting others who might need it more go before you.
- It is a time for peace and giving, so try to avoid shouting and anger, and especially no rude words or gestures.
- Most workplaces will modify working hours throughout the Holy Month to accommodate the needs of those fasting.
- You may also find shops have very different opening times, with many closed all day and open through most of the night. Major supermarkets and Malls can even be open 24 hours a day! You should have no problem finding an open supermarket throughout the day for groceries; you obviously just cannot consume anything until you get home.
- Mosques that are open throughout most of the year for guided tours to non-Muslims may adjust or pause their programs during the Holy Month.
- Many tourist attractions will adjust their hours too, always check on websites/Facebook pages for business opening hours at this time of year.
- Attractions such as desert safaris will continue to operate, but the entertainment element of their program will be paused over Ramadan.
Ramadan Timings in Dubai
Sometimes key attractions change their opening hours during the Holy Month. We are presently aware of these Ramadan hours in 2022 (TBC for 2023).
Transport During Ramadan in Dubai
- The Dubai Metro will run Monday to Thursday & Saturday 5:00 AM to midnight; Fridays 5:00 AM to 1:00 AM; Sundays 8:00 AM to midnight
- Dubai Tram will run Monday to Saturday 6:00 AM to 1:00 AM; Sundays from 9:00 AM to 1:00 AM
- See the complete RTA announcement and route timings for all transport here
Attraction Timings during Ramadan in Dubai
- Dubai Mall Shops are open Monday to Thursday 10:00 AM to Midnight; Friday to Sunday 10:00 AM to 1:00 AM – food establishments will stay open until 2:00 AM
- Global Village has extended their season and will stay open evenings from 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM, until 7 May 2022
- Dubai Frame 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM
- Museum of the Future 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
- Quranic Park 12:00 PM to 11:00 PM (Cave of Miracles and Glass House close 7:00 PM) TBC 2022
- Ain Dubai Temporarily closed until after Ramadan
- Aquaventure 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
- Dubai Parks & Resorts Varies by the park – Legoland opens from 10:00 AM, Motiongate opens at 1:00 PM and Bollywood from 3:00 PM
- Dubai Safari Park Day session 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, Night session 6:00 PM to Midnight
Visiting the Grand Mosque during Ramadan
If you were planning a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi as a day trip from Dubai, the good news is that the Grand Mosque will remain open daily throughout Ramadan for non-Muslim visitors. There will be a 3.5-hour window in the evening it is closed while Iftar is observed.
We have a complete guide over here on our Abu Dhabi partner website on how to visit the Grand Mosque during Ramadan.
To prevent any confusion there are two Eid celebrations!
Eid al-fitr is the festival of the breaking of the fast, occurring immediately after Ramadan.
It is a time of festivities and daytime feasts for Muslim families, also when people will dress in their new Eid clothes, ladies will have their hair and henna done and gift-giving occurs among other celebrations.
It is a very busy time in Dubai and also a public holiday – usually three days but for Government departments, this may be extended to a week.
Eid al-Fitr in 2023 will be announced towards the end of Ramadan, you should expect it to fall around 22 to 24 April 2023.
These are usually declared after the official start of Ramadan, although Eid itself is still subject to moon sighting. The first sighting of the crescent moon marks 1 Shawwal.
Charity or Zakat – another of the Five Pillars of Islam – is considered very important during Eid celebrations, giving and thoughtfulness to those less fortunate. You may see a number of white tents popping up all over town even before Ramadan starts, these are for making donations to the needy – it can be a good way to get your children involved in Ramadan and understand the importance of giving.
“The festival of the sacrifice” occurs approximately 70 days after the end of Ramadan. Arafat Day falls first, on the second day of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca – the 9th Day of Dhu Al Hijja on the Hijri calendar.
This is immediately followed by Eid al-Adha. Animals such as sheep or goats are sacrificed and tradition dictates a third is eaten by the family, a third is given to relatives and friends and a third is given to the needy.
This is another three to four-day public holiday though can be extended to a week also for Government departments and schools (always announced very last minute)
Arafat day in Dubai is due to occur on 27 June 2023 and Eid al-Adha 28 June to 1 July 2023, subject to moonsighting
Should I visit Dubai during Ramadan?
Many visitors unfamiliar with Islamic culture are understandably nervous when they work out they will be visiting the city during Ramadan. Is there anything you really should worry about?
We’ll take you through some of the questions we have received over the years to put your mind at ease:
Yes and No! As we explained above you should not eat in public or in front of those who are fasting out of respect.
The rules around this are changing, whereby more cafes and restaurants ARE open in Dubai during Ramadan, but it is still respectful to remain discreet. Certainly, no daytime eating walking along the street or in a car.
It is true that Muslims refrain from even drinking water, however, as a tourist, you can do so discreetly. You can drink with a meal in a designated restaurant, or during the day nipping into a bathroom or anywhere not in the public eye you can steal a sip.
Within the confines of a resort, it is now permissible to drink poolside, just use your discretion in the company of others who may be fasting.
There is a slightly higher standard of dress expected of tourists during Ramadan. Whilst we talk about shorts and t-shirts being fine for most of the year in our dress code advice here, during Ramadan extra effort to cover shoulders and knees should be made.
If you are staying at a Dubai resort, you will have no issue wearing your swimwear in the appropriate parts of the hotel as you would year-round.
Yes, non-Muslims are very welcome to attend an Iftar and enjoy the experience. You should dress respectfully for the occasion, and be mindful to let those who have been fasting all day go first.
You can have Iftar anywhere in Dubai but if you’d like to understand more about the occasion we strongly recommend you book and pay for an evening with SMCCU.
Another area that has evolved over the years. Non-Muslim tourists are allowed to drink in Dubai as we discuss here, however, it can be a little different during Ramadan. Alcohol is unlikely to be served anywhere during the day (but bottle shops may be open, just with different hours), with service starting in bars after Iftar.
Most restaurants and certainly Ramadan tents will NOT serve alcohol with Iftar but it’s variable. If they advertise “hops & grapes” or similar wording, then it means alcohol IS included.
Travelling through the airport, alcohol used to NOT be served during the day in DXB, but we found it WAS allowed in 2021. We believe this is a permanent rule change now.
Contrary to popular belief, most attractions in Dubai WILL remain open throughout Ramadan, especially those catering to tourists including the theme parks, Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and museums.
There may be variations in those opening hours though (many extending until much later into the evening), and it can be quieter than other times of the year which can certainly work to your advantage (given dates fall over the Northern Hemisphere spring break, this is no longer likely to be the case).
“Ramadan Kareem” is the polite greeting to use, and during Eid, “Eid Mubarak”.
During Ramadan, you may find cheaper flight and accommodation packages than other times of the year. Although now that Ramadan is in March/April and the peak tourism season for the UAE, this is no longer the case!
You will likely now find better deals to come to the UAE AFTER Ramadan and Eid when it’s starting to get hot in late May/June.
It is also an incredibly joyful time of year. The city comes alive in the evenings and it truly is a time of happiness and celebration for Muslims. Without a doubt, these days it’s not a disadvantage to visit Dubai during Ramadan, in fact, it can be one of the greatest times for a cultural and beachy holiday all in one.
Final thoughts on Ramadan in Dubai
Remember to park any opinions you may have about whether it is “right” or “healthy” or any other beliefs contrary to the Pillars of Islam; whether you are a visitor or an expatriate resident, you are a guest in the country and these are the rules that must be observed.
More cultural experiences in Dubai and frequently asked tourist questions:
- What is the Call to Prayer? And what should you be doing as a non-Muslim visitor during prayer times?
- Visit the beautiful Quranic Park for a more in-depth learning experience based around the Holy Book
- How to visit a Dubai Mosque – which ones are open to the public and how you can gain a greater understanding of Islamic culture when you visit Dubai
- Learn more about cultural tours and meals you can take with SMCCU; not just during Ramadan, but throughout the year there are further opportunities to learn about Islamic culture and the traditions of the UAE in a welcoming environment
Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai
- Pop into our essential planning information page, it includes everything you need to know about getting around Dubai, a handy guide on what to pack, and top tips for first-timers on the do’s and don’ts, laws, and customs to be aware of.
- Check out this incredible list of 150+ places you should visit when you’re in Dubai.
- Pick up a Dubai Pass from iVenture or a Dubai Go City Pass to save up to 50% on top Dubai attractions.
- Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance!!!
- Discover the best areas to stay in Dubai, or bag a bargain on your accommodation here:
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