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by Alveena Salim

Since moving out of the West. I have been in a position to experience Ramadan in Muslim countries.

The difference between fasting in the West compared to fasting in the Middle East never ceases to amaze me.

1. Firstly, here the working day is officially cut down by two hours. 

The workday will be two hours shorter during Ramadan, the Ministry of Labour has announced.

Office timings will be reduced from eight hours to six hours or down to 36 hours a week.

The new schedule will apply to Muslims and non-Muslims working in offices and construction sites. Labourers should have similar timings along with their midday break, the ministry said.


However, you can leave earlier than two hours in some companies. It’s a bit more difficult with Western companies, as you have to complete the work before you leave. However, the pressure is generally reduced.

2. Life generally slows down – companies are expected to close deals before Ramadan and assume that no work/deadlines will be met during Ramadan.

3. It is illegal to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours (including in your car). Caught doing so, results in fines. Most restaurants are shut. Pictures/displays of food are covered up. Its a huge social faux par to eat or drink in public.

3. It becomes a ‘dry month’ – in other words, drinking alcohol during the fasting hours suddenly becomes an issue.

4. Huge amount of food wastage in lavish Iftar buffets. 

Although there are no figures available for Dubai, the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi released figures in August 2010 showing that approximately 500 tonnes of food gets thrown away in the capital during Ramadan, prompting Abdul Nasser Al Shamsi, Executive Director of EAD, to say that “the amount of food wasted, especially during Ramadan, is totally unacceptable”.
According to official statistics, one third, or 34 per cent, of the waste generated in the UAE comprises discarded food.

5. Ramadan offers. It’s considered the best time to purchase a car or other things as its the month of generosity.

6. And speaking of generosity. This is the time over hundreds of prisoners get released from prison and the Sheikh personally settles all the prisoners’ debts and financial commitments.

ABU DHABI //Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, yesterday ordered the release of 724 prisoners ahead of Ramadan and settled their debts. Clemency was granted to 426 inmates in Abu Dhabi and 298 in other prisons across the country, the state news agency WAM reported. The inmates – Emirati and expatriate – had been serving jail terms for various crimes.

Sheikh Khalifa pledged to settle all the prisoners’ debts and financial commitments resulting from their court cases. The UAE Government grants pardons to a large number of prisoners during Ramadan every year. Last year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, pardoned 595 prisoners to mark the start of Ramadan, 62 of whom were Emiratis. Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid, Ruler of Ajman, pardoned 58 prisoners and Sheikh Saud bin Saqr, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras al Khaimah, ordered the release of 84 prisoners.


7. Moving the clocks back. When I lived in Egypt, they would actually move their clocks back during Ramadan and then move them forward when it ends – that would mean that they spend one less fasting hour awake.

8. Car accidents increase during this month (and they are high to begin with).

ABU DHABI // Police have appealed to hungry motorists to take extra care as they head home to break their fast this month. During rush hour in Ramadan – from 5pm to 6pm – roads become more dangerous with drivers, eager to get home in time for evening prayers and iftar, speeding and paying less attention to the rules of the road. “People drive worse at this time of day,” said Capt Haji al Bloushi, traffic control manager for the Abu Dhabi Traffic Police. “Because they are fasting they do not concentrate as well by the end of the day. People are hungry and they want to go home to rest and see their families. We want everyone to finish Ramadan and enjoy Eid without getting into any accidents.” On Monday night there were a number of accidents in Abu Dhabi and Dubai just before iftar, despite there being fewer cars on the road.


8. Worshippers seeking out the stars of the local imam circuit. There is a kind of unintentional talent show where imams with the best appeal fill their mosques during Taraweeh prayers

Local Internet forums are filled with Arabs discussing the best mosques to attend these nightly prayers based on the appeal of the prayer leader.

Lists are posted on local forums of the best imams in town; rating them by different categories such as voice, correct recitation technique, the length of the prayer session and even whether the imam weeps. Some even tour around to these various mosques every night to sample the best recitation techniques.

9. High dosage of entertainment – A host of television programs & comedy shows are aired by satellite channels especially for Ramadan. Many people spend most of their mornings in the holy month sleeping and celebrate from evenings till late in the night. Malls and shopping complexes open after Asr and close late in the night and are crowded to the brim.

10. Ramadan Mesharati – Mesaharati is a 30-day job created especially for Ramadan that requires a man with a special drum to go around his neighborhood early in the morning to wake up people to eat suhoor (starting of the fast meal) before Fajr prayer, signifying the start of the day’s fast.

11. Ramadan Cannon – The loud echoing bang of the cannon fired everyday at sunset to announce the end of the fast – a tradition still observed in many Muslim countries .

12. Rise of people’s hot tempers – Fights are seen on the road and among people waiting in lines in supermarkets, bakeries, restaurants and ful shops. People are always in a hurry, especially a few hours before iftar. People turn their cars into speeding rockets on the street. These angry drivers create traffic jams and they fight with each other because of the congestion they themselves create.

12. Young women, especially unmarried ones take drugs to delay menstrual cycle in the holy month of Ramadan out of their eagerness to observe fasting throughout the month without missing any days.

In sum, I thoroughly enjoy Ramadan in the Middle East – however, despite the high number of Muslims that live here. To me, there were more spiritual benefits to be found (via the hardships of fasting in a non Muslim country) in London.