During the 30 days of Ramadan, fasting Muslims around the world will observe strict rules, including abstaining from eating, drinking, smoking and engaging in sexual relations between sunrise and sunset.
Non-Muslims, too, will be expected to respect the local culture in many Islamic countries, and should be aware of certain rules and regulations…
- There are strict fines in some Islamic countries, as well as possible jail time, for eating, drinking, smoking and even chewing gum in public – including in their own cars - during daylight hours. In the UAE, for instance, fines can range from AED2,000-2,500 and/or a one- or two-month jail sentence. Getting let off with a warning is a possibility, but not guaranteed. In Egypt, citizens and foreigners can be arrested for a misdemeanour offence if caught, while in Indonesia penalties can include flogging.
- While non-Muslims are not expected to fast, showing courtesy and consideration for those who are fasting is expected.
- During the day, non-Muslims can eat in designated areas, usually behind screens. Some hotels, shopping mall food courts and restaurants will remain open – but discreetly – so it is best to plan ahead by calling them to find out. Most outlets will deliver food during the day as well.
- Similarly, most offices have designated areas where you can eat or drink. It is considered common courtesy not to do so in front of your fasting colleagues.
- Learning a few Ramadan greetings can show your respect for the Islamic culture. In Arabic, it is customary to say "Ramadan Kareem" or "Ramadan Mubarak", which basically translates into "May you have a generous/ blessed Ramadan".
- Do accept Iftar invitations from friends or colleagues, as this will provide you with a way of learning more about the customs and traditions of Ramadan.
- Ramadan is a month for peace and piety, so abstain from swearing and using offensive language or gestures in public, as this is considered disrespectful.
- Ramadan is also a time for giving and charity, so do your bit by donating to your favourite charity or volunteering.
- Because fasting also includes abstaining from sexual contact, any public displays of affection are considered disrespectful, too.
- Modest dress is advisable, so do cover up. Women should wear loose, long-sleeved tops and knee-length skirts or trousers, while men should wear long trousers.
- Work hours for most banks, offices and government organisations will be reduced by at least two hours, so make sure you find out the new timings. Public transport schedules (such as for the Dubai Metro) and paid parking hours will also change during the month.
- Live music is banned in public places during Ramadan but recorded music may be allowed. While bars remain open at night, most night clubs are closed. Likewise, playing loud music either in cars or in private residences is considered impolite and should be avoided.
- Some Muslims are exempt from fasting during Ramadan, so do not be surprised to see them eating as usual. These include the sick, elderly, pre-pubescent children, nursing mothers, pregnant or menstruating women and travellers.