Photo credit: Omar Chatriwala
While most of us will have heard of the Muslim festival of Ramadan, many may be unfamiliar with the finer details of the holy month. When travelling during Ramadan and faced with customs and practises that are different from your own, it can sometimes be difficult to know what to expect. But travelling itself is all about gaining insight into other cultures and learning about worlds other than your own, so travelling during Ramadan may be one of the most interesting and unique times to discover the Muslim countries.
To understand and adhere to Ramadan etiquette, it is essential to have a degree of knowledge about the festival and what to expect in countries where it is observed. While you should not be put off travelling during Ramadan, there are certain elements you should be aware of in order to ensure you are being respectful of others. I spent time in the Egyptian capital of Cairo during Ramadan a few years ago and the atmosphere was incredible. Holy, spiritual and truly evocative; I got to see a whole different side of the city. The packed streets would come to a standstill during prayer time when worshippers would cover the ground in a sea of colourful prayer mats and a hush came over the streets.
What is Ramadan all about?
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar during which Muslims fast from dawn until sunset every day. This practise pays tribute to the time when the first revelation of the Koran was given to the Prophet Muhammad – a central part of the faith and one of the Five Pillars of Islam. There is food and drink served before dawn – the suhoor – and to break the fast at sunset – iftar.
All Muslims are required to fast when they reach puberty and only those who are ill, elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic or menstruating are exempt. The fast (or sawm) is traditionally not limited to refraining only from consuming food or drinking, it also applies to a range of other behaviours designed to allow worshippers to focus on Ramadan as a time of spiritual reflection, devotion and worship and encourage self-discipline and restraint. This includes refraining from sex, swearing, arguing, smoking and gossiping.
During Ramadan, worshippers are also expected to focus even more than usual on the teachings of Islam, with an increase in prayer and zakat (charity). It is believed that the gates of Paradise are opened during this month and that spiritual rewards are higher. This year, Ramadan begins on June 18th and will last for 29 or 30 days until Eid al-Fitr – the festival day that marks the end of Ramadan and the start of the following month.
Ramadan in Dubai at the Armani/Mediterraneo
When travelling during Ramadan to any Muslim country, there are some simple, straightforward guidelines that should be observed in order to ensure you are behaving in a respectable manner. Eating, drinking or smoking in public areas should be avoided during fast time (from dawn to dusk). In order to acknowledge the strength of mind associated with the festival, you should also refrain from using strong language or indulging in public displays of affection. Playing loud music is also best avoided, in order to allow worshippers to focus on their spiritual reflection, and it is also advisable to dress modestly (no low necklines). Always be punctual if you are invited to attend the iftar meal with friends or colleagues and take a gift for your host. When greeting Muslims, wish them a “Ramadan Kareem” or “Eid Mubarak” during the Eid celebrations.
Where to spend your time
Dubai is a destination where the festival is widely observed and it is also one of the most vibrant and interesting places for anyone travelling during Ramadan. Many of the city’s hotels have special events for the suhoor and the iftar, to honour the social gatherings that have become common during this time. Observers use these occasions to spend with friends and family in fellowship.
Mediterraneo at the Armani Hotel Dubai
The Armani Hotel Dubai is offering a special iftar every day during Ramadan from sunset until 10pm at its restaurant, Mediterraneo. Against the relaxing backdrop of the Dubai Fountain on the Lobby Level, guests can break the fast with a dedicated culinary experience and range of delicious food. The suhoor may also be observed but only for groups of 50 and more. During Ramadan, a la carte lunch will be available at Armani/Deli.
The Address Downtown Dubai
The Address Downtown Dubai is another hotel holding special events during the holy month. The iftar will be observed at the Fazaris restaurant every day from sunset, where the fast will be broken with dates, as tradition states that the Prophet Mohammed broke his fast with dates. Arabic and Turkish coffee will also be provided, followed by a sumptuous meal of Asian-Mediterranean fusion cuisine. A live Arabic duo band playing traditional music enhances the relaxed mood, with the hotel also offering special group and residential rates. Suhoor will also be served a la carte in the restaurant. The hotel will also be offering a Corporate Iftar, where guests can observe the breaking of the fast with colleagues at a tailor-made event (minimum 100 people) with privileged views of the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Fountains. Guests can choose the iftar meal menu and the décor to suit personal tastes while there will also be live entertainment throughout the evening.
The hotel has designed a special Ramadan experience for those who are not fasting. Award-winning restaurant CUT by Wolfgang Puck is offering an elegant, fine dining experience with local and world cuisine to honour the holy month. On a mouthwatering menu available every day from 5-9pm, favourites include Wagyu Beef Skewers and Steak Tartare.
The Manzil Downtown Dubai
At the Manzil Downtown Dubai, guests can experience Ramadan through an intriguing culinary adventure. Focusing on the best of Arabic inspired cuisine, visitors can dine in the Courtyard or the Boulevard Kitchen. The latter offers cosy, stylish surroundings and a plentiful buffet with a menu specially created for iftar, including an assortment of traditional desserts. Iftar can also be experienced with a delicious buffet meal in the magical outdoor gardens of the Arabian-style courtyard, which is renowned for its mesmerizing ambience. Both iftar events are open every day from sunset until 10pm throughout Ramadan, with soft drinks included in the price and free meals for children under five. The Courtyard will also hold daily suhoor events, where guests can enjoy traditional Ramadan foods and shisha whilst being entertained by live Oriental performers.
The Palace Downtown Dubai
If you’re travelling during Ramadan to Dubai, the Palace Downtown will be offering iftar at Ewaan, in a special Ramadan tent for a traditional setting. Guests can enjoy the meal from sunset until 9pm in the air-conditioned tent, with the added benefit of free valet parking. The tent is also the setting for the suhoor festivities, and there are Lakeside Tents available, too, where guests can get in touch with their spiritual side in an inspirational setting to the sounds of the oud (a traditional instrument similar to a lute). Special set menus will be created for larger parties while smaller groups can enjoy the a la carte offering. The Palace is also offering their Royale Ballroom for hire during Ramadan, where guests can enjoy a custom-made iftar or suhoor event within the elegant interiors and expansive terrace with views over the Burj Lake.
The VIDA Downtown Dubai
Ramadan is a time when there is an emphasis on traditional foods, with mains such as lamb kebabs with grilled vegetables and rich, sweet desserts such as baklava. The VIDA Downtown is offering guests an Arabic feast with traditional Middle Eastern iftar features including salads, dry fruit and a range of appetizers. Their iftar experience is slightly different from the others as they are offering a set menu instead of a buffet, with respect to their pledge to cut down on food wastage. Available from sunset until 10pm at the hotel’s bright white, ultra stylish, 3in1 restaurant, this is an extremely peaceful and welcoming place to break the fast. Framed by a terrace and pool deck, guests can enjoy shisha and traditional drinks after the meal surrounded by the sights of downtown Dubai.