Ask Ali: Ramadan advice for expats
Dear Ali: I am a non-Muslim expat. As my family and I are not planning to travel this summer and it's going to be our first Ramadan experience, do you have any tips? PM, Abu Dhabi
Dear PM: Ramadan is arriving soon, inshallah, but we never know exactly when until a night or two before its announcement because of its link with the lunar calendar.
Non-Muslims are not required to follow Islamic practices during Ramadan, but do respect our customs and regulations such as not eating, drinking or smoking in public during the day unless in an assigned area. In some emirates transgressions can be fined.
Public restaurants won't open until after sunset, and many food courts will be closed during the day. But the malls allocate one or two restaurants to serve their guests, in an area screened from public view. Hotels do serve food but again not in public view. And alcohol in many hotels will not be served during the day.
Women shouldn't feel pressured to cover their hair, but whether during Ramadan or not, do remember that this is a Muslim country and covering your body will be respected and appreciated by us. Showing cleavage, shoulders or knees in public is considered immodest.
Many expats are used to restaurant brunches but this custom stops during Ramadan. Many live events in bars and restaurants will go low-key or not be offered.
Traffic will be at its worst after the day's fasting has ended, so try to avoid going out from 6 to 7pm. The supermarkets will be crowded every night.
Do try to conduct one classic Ramadan act of giving, which is to cook something and give it to your neighbours. Just make sure your dish doesn't include alcohol or pork.
Business hours are reduced during Ramadan, normally by two hours.
The end of Ramadan will be marked by a three-day celebratory public holiday, Eid Al Fitr, and the first night will be dry (no alcohol served anywhere). Sending an Eid Al Fitr greetings card is always appreciated.
Dear Ali: What do you think are the most repeated stereotypes or misstatements about the UAE? AA, Abu Dhabi
Dear AA: The most common misconception is that Dubai is our capital. Of course, that's not true - it may be our commercial capital, but not the capital of the country; that privilege goes to our beloved city Abu Dhabi.
Another one is that you can't find alcohol in the UAE. This has some truth to it depending on how you see the question. You can buy alcohol, but only in a structured way, for example at licensed liquor stores, hotels, clubs and restaurants attached to a hotel, although there are a few exceptions.
Expat residents who want alcohol must obtain a licence, which allows them to make the purchase legally.
Sharjah stands alone among the seven emirates; in addition to forbidding alcohol it also bans shisha.
Another mistaken belief is that homosexuals are banned, which is not true. Homosexual men and women are not banned but their acts are.
Some people think pork is not available here. Pork is available at many shops such as Spinneys, and the store or its "pork room" is usually clearly posted "for non-Muslims". Restaurants serve beef or turkey bacon instead of ham unless you are in a hotel.
To say "See you guys tonight", say "Ashufkum felmasaa."
Updated: July 13, 2011 04:00 AM