Complete Ramadan Guide for Non-Muslims in Middle East

If you are a non-Muslim living in the Middle East, the Holy month of Ramadan can raise a number of questions for you. You would often wonder is it fine to do something or what these customs mean. Here are the answers to some of the common questions:

What is Ramadan all about?

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Hijri calendar. It is regarded as the holiest month of the year as it was the month in which the Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) on the night of Laylat Al Qadr, one of the last ten nights of Ramadan.
The annual observance of Ramadan is considered one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

When is Ramadan 2016?

This year, as far as the Gregorian calendar is concerned, Ramadan starts on June 6 (subject to moon sighting).

How long does it last?

Ramadan lasts for 29-30 days, or one complete moon cycle. The moon sighting determines the duration.

How do we know when it starts?

A moon-sighting committee in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, will make an official announcement.

What does the moon have to do with it?

Ramadan begins at the first sighting of the new crescent moon. Effectively the 30 day period is the entire moon cycle.

Why Saudi Arabia?

Makkah is considered the holiest city in Islam. Not only was it the birthplace of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), but also the location where Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) had his first revelation of the Quran. Because of this, the rest of the Islamic world follow Saudi Arabia’s announcement.

How do you greet each other?

Greet people by saying “Ramadan Kareem”. This roughly translates into “Happy Ramadan”.

Fasting during Ramadan

How do Muslims observe Ramadan?

Adult Muslims are required to fast from dawn until dusk every day throughout Ramadan. Those who are ill, elderly, diabetic, pregnant, menstruating, or breastfeeding are not required to fast.

Those who were travelling or are unwell during the period of Ramadan may fast on different days at a later point. Children are not required to fast unless they have reached puberty, although many still do out of choice.

In addition to abstaining from eating, drinking, and smoking, Muslims also refrain from sexual relations as well as sinful speech and behaviour.

During Ramadan, Muslims pray every night for 30 days, reciting different chapters each day until the Quran is completed by Eid Al Fitr. This is called the Taraweeh prayer which is recited after Isha prayers in mid-evening.

Why fasting?

Fasting redirects the heart away from distractions, with its purpose being to cleanse the soul by freeing it from impurities. Ramadan is also a time for Muslims to practice self-discipline, sacrifice, and empathy for those less fortunate. It encourages generosity and charity.

When do Muslims break fast?

Fast may be broken at sunset before Maghrib prayers after ‘Azaan’ (call for prayers). This occurs just after sunset. Dates are traditionally the first food to be eaten each evening. The fast-breaking meal is called Iftar.

When does fasting start?

Each morning before sunrise, Muslims engage in a pre-fast meal called Suhoor. Afterwards they begin the Fajr prayers.

What is Eid Al Fitr ?

Eid Al Fitr is the annual celebration after the last day of Ramadan and it is considered a public holiday. The government will announce the exact holiday dates nearer the time. In Qatar, the usual practice is one week holiday for public sector and 3 days for private sector.

Ramadan for non-Muslims

Do non-Muslims have to fast?

No. While Muslims don’t expect non-Muslims to fast as well, it remains important to show respect. As such there are certain things to know. Read below:

What do you need to know?

Most of the following points apply to the rest of the year too, but are even more important to adhere to during Ramadan.

  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke in public during the fasting hours. This includes chewing gum.
  • Do not engage in public displays of affection, like hugging.
  • Do not engage in any aggressive behaviour.
  • Do not dance or play music in public. You may listen to music quietly with headphones.
  • Do not wear inappropriate clothing in public. Dress respectfully. Men should avoid wearing sleeveless vests, while women should cover their shoulders and knees.
  • Do not swear. Blasphemy is considered extra offensive during Ramadan.
  • Do not refuse a gift, from a simple date to something more exotic, you should accept it. Further, you should not refuse an invitation to join someone at Iftar.

The penalty for not following the above etiquette can vary, with community service normally being favoured.

Where can you eat, drink, or smoke?

If you are not fasting, then you are free to eat and drink in the privacy of your own home, as well as in designated areas. Ask your employer where you can eat your lunch. The same goes with smoking.
Some restaurants and cafes will be open during the day. You are free to frequent these. Food can be taken away and consumed in private.

What else you need to know

Work hours

The standard work-day is reduced by 2-3 hours for most offices across all sectors. Some offices provide this concession to Muslim employees only.

Grocery shopping

Supermarkets and groceries are open as usual, and you are free to do your weekly shop as normal. Some stores close around 5:30 pm and reopen after Iftar only.


There’s no denying the fact that driving during the day, particularly between 5pm and Iftar, is hazardous. Some fasting taxi drivers may have been working longer than they should have been and as a result they may be dehydrated and lacking the ability to concentrate properly. Only drive in the afternoons if you absolutely have to.

Booking a taxi

If you are heading out around the Iftar time, then be advised that booking a taxi may not be so easy. A lot of drivers will be breaking the fast, so availability may be difficult.

Going out for dinner

If you are planning on going out for Iftar then you should book a table in advance. Restaurants are understandably busy during Ramadan evenings.

Going to the mall

While a lot of businesses change their hours for Ramadan, malls remain generally open during the day – with the exception of food courts and restaurants. Some restaurants may remain open, but this will seldom be advertised.

Give to charity

Ramadan is a charitable time, and giving to those less fortunate will be greatly appreciated. It doesn’t have to be money, but perhaps food for Iftar.

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