In Focus

Ramadan etiquette for expats in UAE

Here’s a list of dos and don’ts to help you have a memorable Ramadan and join in the festivity of the holy month

  • By Jay B. Hilotin, Chief Reporter
  • Published: 21:00 July 10, 2013

Dubai: With the right attitude, non-Muslim expatriates and visitors can have a great time during Ramadan in the UAE. It’s a wonderful moment to immerse in local culture, as Emiratis and Muslim expatriate residents observe the month-long fast from dawn till sunset.

It’s an auspicious period of heightened spirituality. So it is best for expatriates and visitors to observe more discretion and increased sensitivity. Ramadan nights are usually festive and they start with iftar. Here’s a run-down of simple yet important things expatriates must remember during Ramadan.

During the day

  • Eating, chewing gum, drinking and smoking in public during Ramadan is viewed as disrespectful.
  • If you’re healthy and able to join the fast, good for you. If not, you may take your own food to work.
  • Most restaurants are shut during the day.
  • Some establishments designate places where non-Muslims can eat, smoke and drink in the day.
  • Be careful about serving refreshments when you have Muslim visitors over.
  • In many establishments, work is shortened by two hours during this month.

At night

  • Ramadan nights are festive. If you get an iftar invitation, gladly accept it. Bringing some sweets and flowers will be seen by your hosts as a sign of friendship (don’t be offended if your hosts don’t serve the sweets you bring).
  • During the meal, eat and drink with your right hand – it is considered unhygienic to eat with the left hand.
  • Express your wishes for your host’s wellbeing and his family.
  • Avoid leaving immediately after the iftar, but be mindful of the call for Isha, the evening prayer, as your host may want to go for prayers then.
  • Try to connect with the local cultural scene by attending various events.
  • It’s a great time to sample local and regional cuisine.
  • Most malls and shopping centres are open till late, or till dawn
  • Do not play live music as it is banned throughout the month.
  • Drinking or possession of alcohol without a Ministry of Interior liquor permit is illegal and may lead to fines and imprisonment.
  • Muslims appreciate it when you greet them “Ramadan Kareem”.


  • Women are advised to dress modestly, avoid spaghetti straps, above-the-knee skirts and the like.
  • Men are expected to dress modestly, avoid bold overtones.
  • Cross-dressing is an absolute no-no, whether it’s Ramadan or not.
  • Swimsuits are OK only in hotel pools and private beaches.

Other reminders

  • Don’t walk in front of someone or a group of people praying.
  • Show consideration for those who are observing the fast.
  • Avoid getting into arguments or animated/offensive behaviour.
  • Give way when a motorist behind seems in a hurry, especially when iftar is approaching.
  • Avoid making obscene hand gestures and using foul language.
  • Do not point fingers at others as this is considered disrespectful.
  • Take prior permission before entering a mosque, if you’re not a Muslim.
  • Don’t show the soles of your feet or shoes to someone. It is deemed an insult.
  • Illicit relations are punishable, whether it’s Ramadan or not. Unmarried couples living together may end up in jail.
  • Public display of affection such as kissing in public is unacceptable and may lead to arrest.

Comments (6)

Your comment
  1. Added 12:23 July 11, 2013

    Some are just a common human respects but i learn something on the information. Thank you so much. Ramadan Kareem to Muslim brothers & sisters.

    struck, CEBU, Philippines

  2. Added 10:21 July 11, 2013

    It is a good initiative from XPRESS as expats can be more relaxed when they know the right dos and don'ts. However, I wanted to share another aspect which is also worth highlighting. Each year I feel somewhat sad to see the change in attitude of my fellow Muslim brothers - in road accidents and at work - when people lose temper so quickly. This is very much against the spirit of Ramadhan and I can very well imagine what impression it would give to non-Muslim expats.

    MAH, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 10:16 July 11, 2013

    Please advise the meaning of the greetings RAMDAAN KAREEM Editor's Note: Ramadan Kareem means: Have a generous Ramadan.

    Juned Beg, delhi, India

  4. Added 09:33 July 11, 2013

    This is my first Ramadan in UAE. I am not aware of lot of these etiquette. These will help me in maintain respect to my muslim brothers. Thanks a lot.

    Krishna Kumar, Abu Dhabi, India

  5. Added 07:31 July 11, 2013

    Thanks for posting guidlines for the holy month of ramadhan

    Usman, Faisalabad, Pakistan

  6. Added 21:19 July 10, 2013

    It's nice to know and observe etiquette of foreign culture, but ironically, we don't hear much about the Christian etiquette (for example) to be observed/practiced by expats (non-christian) visiting western countries such as the U.S or U.K. Ramadan Kareem!

    Observer, KL, Malaysia

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