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Dates: In 2012 Ramadan will be approximately from 21/22 July to 20/21 August. The start of Ramadan is confirmed by the sighting of the moon and as timing is on the Islamic (hijri or lunar) calendar it is approximately 9-10 days earlier each year.
What happens in Ramadan: Ramadan is a month of abstinence for Muslims and observing it forms one of the pillars of the Islamic faith. It is a time for reflection and meditation and many Muslims spend more time at prayer during Ramadan. To observe Ramadan, a Muslim will "fast" from before dawnbreak until sunset. This means they will not drink, eat, smoke or have sexual relations during these daylight hours. It is believed that fasting will teach a Muslim modesty and sympathy for those less fortunate and it is a very spiritual experience for them.
They will break their fast after sunset and if you are visiting Dubai or the other Emirates during Ramadan, you will hear the "call to prayer" from a local mosque that signifies the end of the fast. Most Muslims break their fast with some dates and juice and then have a larger main meal around 10pm. Mosques in Dubai provide dates and water to enable people to break their fast together before prayer. As the beginning of Ramadan is confirmed by sighting of the moon, so is the end. Mosques will also announce the end of Ramadan, what follows is a public holiday - Eid ul-Fitr a celebration after the month long fast involves feasting and visiting family and friends.
Children are not expected to fast until puberty, other "allowed" exemptions are pregnant or nursing mothers, menstruating women, the very elderly and chronically ill people. If a Muslim is travelling they are also exempt from fasting for the period of travel if it is over 14 miles in one day. Apart from children, these exempt groups can make up fasting days at a later time.
Ramadan in the UAE: In the UAE it is illegal for adults to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours. This includes if you are travelling in a car. If you do by mistake and are unlucky enough to be seen and reported, you will probably just be given a stern warning by the Police. Most cafes and restaurants are closed all day until ready to serve iftar, although many of them will have a closed off area and remain open discretely, supermarkets are open; take-away food can be delivered; some hotels have a restaurant available where non-fasters can eat (Dubai is better served than the rest of the UAE in this regard); room service remains available. Muslims will generally work less hours so they will leave work earlier and driving and the traffic becomes a little bit crazy from 3pm until after 7pm as lots of people are trying to get home to break their fast.
Alcohol during Ramadan: Bars and restaurants are usually open to serve drinks from 7:00 pm during Ramadan.
Entertainment during Ramadan: Apart from traditional oud music there is no music allowed during Ramadan. Nightclubs are closed; there is no music in pubs and bars allowed; there are no concerts or festivals during Ramadan.
Iftar buffets: Iftar buffets are available at most food outlets and restaurants. It is an opportunity for non-fasters to eat good food alongside those who have been fasting.
Clothing: Men and women are expected to dress more modestly during Ramadan. In particular, revealing and tight clothing should be avoided. Women should keep cleavage, knees and shoulders covered out of respect. Public beaches, beach parks and the hotel pools will all be open as usual, you can continue to wear swimwear in these areas.