One of my biggest worries before moving to Dubai was that I’d do something to offend Muslims and get sent off to jail or deported.
My knowledge of Dubai, the UAE and the rest of the Middle East was limited a couple years ago. I bet most non-Muslims in the US see the abaya as a repressive symbol and many are weary of all things connected to Islam. I blame it partly on the news media, partly on the fact that Americans largely don’t travel outside the US and also partly (unfortunately) because of the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
So there I was googling away about Ramadan, Islam and Dubai. I found bits and pieces of things that were very helpful, but I was still cautious (and curious). During our first Ramadan, I didn’t even allow the children to eat or drink outside. One time we were in a mall and Little S was thirsty so I rushed to a corner in a deserted hallway and covered her while she sipped some water. I’m glad to report that since then I’ve learned a bit more about Islam and Ramadan, and I now know that young children are exempt from fasting rules.
If you’re a newbie in Dubai, don’t worry. Ramadan is not all the awful things you’ve heard or read about. Just try to read up on it as much as possible and most of all, enjoy the experience. Ramadan is actually a time when Dubai slows down and people are friendlier. Here are a couple things to remember:
1. Children, pregnant women and the elderly are exempt from fasting rules. It is acceptable for young children to eat and drink openly in public, but for pregnant women and elderly, try to be discreet. You can (of course) eat and drink in your own home. Sounds silly but I wasn’t sure if it was mandatory for everyone to fast or not when I first got here.
2. Stay off the roads just before and after sunset. This is generally the time people are rushing home to break fast and traffic can be a nightmare.
3. Most restaurants are closed in the daytime but you can find some that are open. Just look for the ones that are curtained off from the public, those are usually up to keep the people eating out of sight from the general public.
4. Don’t forget to say “Ramadan Kareem” to friends and co-workers. It’s a general greeting used by Muslims just like Christians (and others) say “Merry Christmas.”
5. You probably won’t get in trouble if you make a mistake and break the fasting rules. As long as it isn’t something you continually do or don’t make a big show of it. Just quickly stop and apologize if anyone comes up to you. Most people are understanding that non-Muslims may slip up and as long as you didn’t intend on breaking the rules, then you should be ok.