As Muslims across the world prepare for Ramadan – expected to begin this week – here is what you need to know about the holy month.
What is Ramadan?
The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is a time when Muslims around the world abstain from eating, drinking or smoking between sunrise and sunset.
Lasting about a month, it marks the time when the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Extra tarawih prayers are performed at the mosque throughout Ramadan and each evening 1/30th of the holy book is recited. By the end of Ramadan, many observers have read the entire Quran.
Why is Ramadan so important to Muslims?
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, which are the foundation of the religion. The pillars are the framework by which Muslims everywhere live, and Ramadan is considered the holiest time in the Islamic calendar. It is a time for prayer, reflection and religious devotion, to cleanse past sins and to focus on Allah through good deeds.
Why do Muslims fast?
Fasting, or sawn, loosely translates as ‘to refrain’. So during Ramadan Muslims commit to not eating, drinking, smoking or even chewing gum during daylight hours. But sawn isn’t just about physical restraint, it also refers to bad thoughts, actions and words.
Many people assume that Ramadan is about deprivation, but in Islam it’s often a time to spend with family, breaking fast at sunset over iftar. The fast itself is intended to help Muslims learn about self-discipline and restraint, and enable them to empathise with those who have less.
When will Ramadan begin?
Moon sighting committees across the region looked to the skies after prayers on the evening of Tuesday, May 15 to determine when the holy month would begin.
They decided that Wednesday, May 16 would be the 30th day of the eighth Islamic month Sha’ban and Thursday, May 17 would be the start of Ramadan.
The Gulf countries decide the beginning of Ramadan based on the Islamic calendar, which is linked to the moon’s 29 and a half-day monthly cycle. Islamic months can be 29 or 30 days based on the appearance of the moon crescent at night.
However, it is up to each country to decide when it will mark the holy month. This year, Oman announced more than a week in advance when it would celebrate Ramadan.
The sultanate’s Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs said on Sunday last week that the holy month would fall on Thursday, May 17 due to concerns the moon would not be visible nationwide on Tuesday evening the next week.
Astronomers in Kuwait and Sharjah previously indicated May 17 will be the likely start date for the month.
In March, Sharjah Centre for Astronomy and Space Sciences said Ramadan would likely fall on May 17 with Eid Al Fitr, marking the end of the month, expected on June 15.
Does everything close during the day?
Many cafés and restaurants remain open during Ramadan, but may have shorter or different opening times so it’s best to call before. The places that are open during the daytime are likely to have curtains or panels in place to conceal people eating and drinking from those fasting.
Everything tends to happen much later in the day during Ramadan. The malls close even later than usual, with many staying open well after midnight.
Are there different work hours?
For both public and private sector staff the day will typically be shorter by two hours but times vary depending on the country. As an example, public sector working hours in Oman and the UAE this Ramadan will be 9:00am to 2:00pm but they will be slightly longer in Bahrain at 8:00am to 2:00pm.
For the private sector, typical work hours in the UAE are often two hours less (9:00am to 4:00pm) but can vary. Oman has said private sector Muslim staff must work no more than six hours a day, while in Dubai International Financial Centre non-Muslim staff do not have reduced hours.
What about eating and drinking for non-Muslims?
Non-Muslims can still eat and drink but must do so discreetly. In offices, consumption is typically not allowed at desks and workers must go to specified areas. Eating and drinking in public and in cars should definitely be avoided as should chewing gum and smoking.
Do I need to do anything differently during the day?
It’s important for everyone to dress and behave appropriately during the holy month. Even those who aren’t fasting should make sure that their clothes are modest, covering shoulders, chest and knees. Keep music levels down to a minimum when you’re driving and, of course, no public displays of affection.