How is Ramadan observed in the UAE?
The Ramadan traditions in the UAE start mid-Shaaban (the month preceding Ramadan). This day is known as Hagg Al-Layla. Emirati children dress in their best clothes and go to houses in the neighboring areas reciting songs and poems. The neighbors welcome them with sweets and nuts, which are collected by children in traditional cloth bags.
There are two main meals in Ramadan: Suhoor and Iftar. Suhoor is consumed early in the morning before sunrise, just before fasting hours start. Iftar is the meal to break the fast. Following the example of the Prophet Muhammad, fasting is broken with dates and laban (buttermilk) throughout the Islamic world.
On the first night of Ramadan, the family gathers at the house of the male head of the family, usually the grandfather, for their first Iftar. In the UAE and the other GCC countries, dates are considered as the ‘bread of the desert. Gars, a bread-like crumble with dates and cardamom, is a popular Emirati sweet dish during Ramadan. Other common dishes are Harees and Threed.
Firing the cannon (Midfa Al Iftar) is an integral part of the Islamic culture and takes place in many regions across the country. It can be heard around 8-10 km away. It signals the moment when Muslims can break their fast. This tradition is known to people since the rule of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founder President of the UAE. Children wait for the sound of the big bang. To them, Iftar cannon is the most fun thing that happens during this month, apart from the sweets and other special meals and activities arranged for them. Members of the UAE military carry out this tradition with appropriate safety precautions.
Those who suffer certain barriers such as illness or pregnancy are not obligated to fast as per health professionals’ advice. Those who were traveling may fast later. Children are not required to fast until they have reached puberty, although many still do out of choice. In addition to abstaining from eating, drinking, and smoking, Muslims also should refrain from sinful speech and behavior.
In addition to the regular 5 daily prayers, Muslim men and women perform Tarawih prayers daily after Isha prayers in mid-evening. During the last ten days, many devoted Muslims spend the whole day in mosques, praying and reciting the Quran, in anticipation of the Laylat Al Qadr, the night of the first revelation of the Quran. Reciting different chapters each day from the Quran is appreciated throughout the month of Ramadan. Observing Ramadan provides a spiritual experience. It is time for Muslims to practice self-discipline, sacrifice, and empathy for the less fortunate. It encourages generosity and charity.