“Hands in the air! Step away from the water bottle!” During Ramadan in the UAE it is a minor offense to drink or eat in public during daylight hours. Ramadan is a month-long fast observed by Muslims around the world. The idea is that during this month, Muslims will turn away from secular concerns and focus on their commitment to Islam. They are also encouraged to be more charitable toward others during Ramadan.
In Dubai, the fast is imposed on everyone--at least publicly. You can eat what you’d like when you’d like in your own home, but restaurants are closed during the day. Some will do take-out for you, but anything that would require immediate consumption (aka-ice cream) won’t be served. Even eating and drinking in your car is off-limits. If there are people fasting in the workplace, it’s expected that no one will eat around them. On the bright side, employers are required to let their employees leave after six hours of work as opposed to eight during Ramadan.
Many people choose to just stay home all day. The malls, which are usually bustling and busy, are deserted. Those fasting are exhausted and those not fasting find it uncomfortable to be out and about without food and water. Gotta feel sorry for the retail business during Ramadan.
Since no one is eating during daylight hours, dinner after dark is a huge deal. The restaurants start serving at sunset which has been between 7 and 7:15 this year. However, if it’s a popular restaurant, you’d better show up at 5:45 to get a table at sunset. We went to Texas Roadhouse recently and by 6:15 there was a long line winding from the entrance. Also, the ghost-town mall food courts by day come alive with packed crowds by night. Many restaurants and other organizations hold iftars. Iftars are buffets put on during Ramadan; some serve traditional food such as lamb kebabs and some serve whatever they want (we’ve heard of a few Chinese iftars). No matter where you eat after the sun sets, they serve you a plate of dates according to tradition. Some places also give their customers rose water.
Ramadan may put a wrench in tourist plans, but it has been an interesting experience for me. You’ve gotta respect those who are truly fasting for an entire month. Ramadan started July 8th and tomorrow is the last day. So I’d better say it while I still can, “Ramadan Kareem!”