The National's culture columnist offers a primer to the holy month of Ramadan, which will begin mid-July, for non-Muslims.
Ask Ali: Ramadan for newcomers and henna issues
Dear Ali: Has it been confirmed when Ramadan is taking place this year? What should a newcomer to the region expect for their first Ramadan? SL, Abu Dhabi
Dear SL: Since we follow a mooncalendar, the beginning of a new month is marked with the appearance of the moon's crescent after new moon. Of course, this can be calculated reasonably accurately.
Ramadan this year is forecasted to start on July 21 and to end on August 18.
However, since we still follow our Islamic traditions, we don't rely on the calculations but we - represented by committees appointed especially for this purpose - literally look for the moon to confirm the beginning of a new month. And so it might happen that Ramadan starts or ends a day earlier or later than it was forecasted.
Ramadan is a spiritual month for Muslims and we focus on our religion even more than most of us would usually do. During Ramadan you will find most Muslims conduct more spiritual acts than usual, whether spending more time at mosques, praying more extensively and of course reciting the holy Quran, as we are very much encouraged to read the entire Quran during this month.
Since we are an Islamic country, our government recognises the significance of Ramadan in various ways. This can been seen, for instance, in the reduction of working hours and a few more restrictions on activities that are not really appreciated by our religion but tolerated out of respect to other cultures.
During the fasting hours restaurants will remain closed, except for a few selected and discreetly covered outlets in hotels. The serving of alcohol will be limited to evening hours, and bars and clubs with live entertainment will either not operate or will do so on a restricted basis. Eating, drinking and smoking in public during daylight is forbidden, out of respect towards fasting Muslims, and modesty in public will be expected. Some shops will open in Ramadan later in the day, close over sunset and reopen in the evening. Before sunset, navigating traffic is a challenge since people will be trying to reach their destination for iftar, the fast-breaking meal.
For new expats, the first Ramadan can be a special experience since, at this time of the year, things are different. This is, in my opinion, the best time to experience our Islamic culture and Arabic heritage. Most hotels will have iftar tents, and Ramadan experience programmes will be available.
Dear Ali: Is it allowed for an expat employee to go to work with henna? By the way, I love your new Weekend page. AI, Ras Al Khaimah
Dear AI: Thank you very much for your kind feedback.
Whether or not henna is acceptable at your workplace is a matter for the dress code of your company and nothing to do with whether you are an expat or not. There is no law that prevents expats from having a henna image.
However, I do know that, for instance, service staff in restaurants, flight attendants and frontline staff in hotels are obliged to follow strict grooming rules that are in line with their company's corporate image.Therefore, henna on the hands might not be acceptable.
However, I would recommend that you check with your HR department or line manager.
Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.