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Ramadan in DUBAI: things to KNOW before you GO!

Hey everybody! 

  A few weeks ago I talked about my life in Dubai, and common misconceptions about what life is really like there (here is the link:

That video is really the tip of the iceberg, because there’s SO much more to talk about when it comes to living abroad in Dubai. Case in point: Ramadan!

As some of you may know, the holy month of Ramadan started last Thursday evening, April 23rd.

Life in Dubai during Ramadan is certainly different from life there during other months of the year–even if you aren’t religious, like yours truly! Because I lived in Dubai for 7 years and spent over 6 Ramadans there, I figured it’s the perfect time to talk about life in Dubai during the holy month.

First -- what is Ramadan? 

Ramadan (رمضان)  is the ninth month in the Muslim lunar calendar. It’s the holiest month of the year for Muslims…when healthy adults fast from dawn until dusk. When I say “fast”–that means no water, no smoking, no food, no nada…during the day. During the holy month, there’s also a huge emphasis on giving to charity and working on oneself–self-reflection, reading Quran, praying, etc. 
As someone who used to work in a large media company, I can tell you that it’s also our most profitable month of the year in terms of ad revenue, because people are staying home and watching more of our shows(!)
So what was it like for me, as someone who is not religious but who lived in Dubai for over 6 Ramadans? 
hold on–let me adjust my abaya:
FYI it’s from three dots UAE (link here: )
First, most restaurants are closed during the day.
Grocery stores stay open. Salons, gyms, retail shops – also open. However, not many people go out during the day. It’s hot and you can’t eat or drink in public. Not pleasant.
It’s interesting because in LA we are under a “Safer at Home” order and all non-essential businesses are closed through (at least) May 15th. When it started, LA felt like a ghost town. My first reaction was “LA feels like Dubai during Ramadan rn!”
Those restaurants that do remain open in Dubai are open for takeout only, and have black curtains covering the windows during the daytime. Also, most food courts stay open, but they erect barriers to maintain privacy:
food court barriers
For dinner, a lot of places have a special iftar buffet, and they’ll seat people right before dusk.  They also place water and dates on the table (most people break their fast with water and dates).
Second– work life.  My work hours were normally 10am-7pm. During Ramadan, they shortened the work day by 2 hours, so my hours were more like 11am-6pm.  The canteen was still open, but we were encouraged to eat there and not bring food to our desks. I had water at my desk, sure, but I would try to drink it discreetly(!)
I think the idea is just to be mindful of people who are fasting, because going without food is one thing, but no water is clearly another. It’s rough!
Third- suhoors.  A lot of people have heard of iftar, but not too many know what suhoor is. 
Suhoor is the pre-dawn meal one eats to help last them through the day. Suhoors at Dubai restaurants usually start 10 or 11pm and last until 2, 3, or 4am. Every year, MBC Group held a really fancy suhoor at one of the nicer hotels like Atlantis, al Qasr, or the Westin. I’m not sure if it’s a cultural/traditional thing, but the nicer hotels would put up a tent for iftar and suhoor. When I say “tent” you may be imagining a camping tent or something like that…NO no no. The “tents” for iftar and suhoor were fully carpeted, A/C, posh decor….i.e. Asateer tent at Atlantis hotel:
Asateer tent
That said, you definitely don’t have to go to suhoors and iftar dinners, especially if you aren’t even fasting, but they can be fun.
One thing to note, however, is that becoming a nocturnal animal is not something you adjust to overnight, so heavy iftars and suhoors may make you want to sleep all day. Going to bed around 3 or 4am and sleeping all day is not uncommon, esp. for people who can take time off during Ramadan. A lot of expats choose to use Ramadan to travel around, as work is generally slower during that month anyway.
If you do travel to Dubai during Ramadan, I think you’d still have fun (post-COVID). Just keep in mind that it’s usually quite hot during the day and there may not be as many things to do until dusk…it really comes alive at night.  If you haven’t tried Khaleeji dates — they are good! Try some — during Ramadan they are especially plentiful.
Next: Ramadan greetings!
You can say “Ramadan Mubarak,” (رمضان مبارك) which means “blessed Ramadan” or Ramadan Kareem (رمضان كريم), which means “generous Ramadan.”
You can also say “kul a’am wa enta bi-khair” (كل عام وانت بخير) which means something like “and every year you be well”/many happy returns/every year you be healthy, etc.
Last thing: in the video, I talk about what it means when someone says 
راح افطر عليك 
it’s not good! see 09:15 for details 🙂
That’s it for this week! Ramadan Kareem my friends! If you haven’t yet, please SUBSCRIBE to my channel here:


Here are some of the things that made this video possible- things you can order from home! Stay safe and order online:

First — my camera: Canon –

My mic: Rode –

My books – for English learners:

Al Kitaab book (for beginner Arabic students):

Al Kitaab 1:

FYI I’m wearing a custom abaya — click to contact Basma Al-shamsi re: your next abaya:

This Post Has One Comment

  1. safaa ibrahim

    Hi shannon
    good idea

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