Ramadan in Abu Dhabi: ‘I welcome these social changes’

When I moved to Abu Dhabi back in December of 2012, I sought counsel from established expats about settling in and navigating life in the capital, all the cultural and religious norms.

Naturally, ahead of experiencing my first Ramadan in the country, my trusted confidants prepared me for the Holy Month. I was encouraged to dress modestly, limit jubilation and avoid eating and drinking in public spaces during fasting hours. The risk and possible consequences of committing social offenses during this time was not lost on me, and the importance of respecting those observing Ramadan was of the utmost importance. 

For years to come, I complied with what I had been taught – paying more attention to my attire, lowering the volume of the radio in my car and refraining from eating and drinking in public during fasting hours – a feat that came easily as most, if not all, eateries remained closed. I remember quietness – a calming ambiance – in neighborhoods, malls and retail spaces. News of restaurants that remained operational during fasting hours was hushed, spreading only by word of mouth to those who might be interested in knowing, as opposed to articles emblazoned with headlines such as 20 Restaurants Open All Day During Ramadan published by prominent media outlets. 

Ramadan used to be a more restrictive time in Abu Dhabi, however a lot has changed over the last decade and I was reminded just how much as I stroll through malls in the capital in 2023. It’s business as usual; hustle and bustle as ladies whizz by me wearing shorts and crop tops baring midriffs and shoulders. In 2021 the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi dropped its requirement for restaurants to hang curtains over their facades during fasting hours so now people can be seen cheerfully gathering for meals while the sun is up. I understand that change is the mark of any progressive society, but I do miss the old days of Ramadan – the quiet, stillness of it all – and I feel public sentiment seems to be split on the matter. Some agree with me while others welcome the changes. 

A marketing professional I know, who was born and raised in Abu Dhabi, misses the old days. “Spending Ramadan here was different – unlike anywhere else in the world,” she says. 

Keeping restaurants open during fasting times, made her sad.

“It really has nothing to do with me being a fasting Muslim at all… There was just a different feel to it everywhere in the city, and despite this being a small change, it did affect the overall vibes of the month. Again, this has nothing to do with me being a fasting Muslim, because in any other country in the world nothing would have changed for fasting Muslims, making these small gestures even more special.”

She has also noticed the impact of these changes on non-Muslims. “Non-Muslims can go about their lives like it’s any other day. There was something different about the old days when people were intrigued and wanted to know more about why Muslims fast during this time,” she said.

This sentiment rings true for me. As a non-Muslim, I used to lean into the spirit of Ramadan by choosing a personal goal to achieve throughout the month. For example, in 2018 I participated in a Ramadan Write In with eight other women. We met every week to work on individual writing goals as a collective. I credit this time with helping me make headway on my first children’s book, which was published in 2019. I reflected on this effort as Ramadan approached this year but unfortunately fell short of asserting myself to set and reach another goal in the Holy Month. 

On the other hand, Ameerah Abdullah, an Abu Dhabi resident of nine years, says the changes in the capital have had no effect on her. 

“As a fasting Muslim who grew up in a country such as Singapore, where the majority of the population does not observe Ramadan, I’m used to fasting while others don’t observe. I feel that whether we are fasting or not, we should not expect others to pander to our states of being,” she says.

“In my opinion, it shows that Abu Dhabi is progressing to emulate other capital cities. Ramadan or not, the world still spins. In fact, because it is Ramadan, having a city that doesn’t ‘shut down’ gives me the motivation I need to power through my fasting days. It tells me it’s okay, life is normal – there are others who don’t fast and this reminds me of the beauty of a metropolis with various ethnicities and religious beliefs.” 

“I welcome these social changes because it tells me that while Abu Dhabi wants to stay true to its character, it is also committed to progress and developing further as an exemplary capital city in the Middle East,” said Abdullah.

Rasha Kambal, who’s lived in Abu Dhabi for 24 years agrees with Ameerah, and believes wholeheartedly that the spirit of Ramadan is within.

“The holy month feels the same. Ramadan is about looking inwards and working on your religious goals. If done right, you barely notice the rest of the things.”

Livehealthymag.com is for every body and mind in the UAE. This magazine is all about moderation, making small changes, little additions and the odd subtraction.



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