The Holy Month of Ramadan is one of our favourite times of year in Abu Dhabi. We love the slower pace, the kindness and tolerance that abounds and the traditions that are so much a part of living in the Middle East. This year, Ramadan is expected to begin on Monday 11th March 2024, depending on the sighting of the crescent moon.


For those who observe the holy month, everything switches from day to night: the main meal of the day, iftar, happens at sunset, people shop until late and catch up with friends in the evening and it’s not uncommon to see people playing sport in the wee small hours of the morning - the padel courts and football pitches will be busy long into the night! Also be prepared to see more hardy souls out running or walking right before sunset - we love these legends!


Those who observe the holy month fast between sunrise and sunset every day, until the next crescent moon arrives and Eid al Fitr is called. This means that nothing passes their lips during daylight hours including water, food and cigarettes. 

Every day, the cannon, situated at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and a couple of other locations around the city, is fired as soon as maghrib prayer (at sunset) is called. If you’re at a public iftar, there will often be big screens set up so that people can see the cannons going off, signifying the opportunity to break their fast. 


Iftar, sometimes called ftoor, is the name of the meal eaten by Muslims at sunset to break their fast during the holy month. Outside the home, this iftar meal happens in every hotel and restaurant in Abu Dhabi: in hotels, this will be either in a ballroom or in an all-day dining restaurant. 

There are also some massive and decidedly lavish pavilions that pop up around the city, bringing the feel of ancient Arabia to life in 2024 and there are many free iftar meals on offer for those in need around the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Communities often get together to provide a night’s iftar each at their local mosque.

Usually, companies will provide an iftar meal for their staff. 


Iftar is the main meal of the day for those who are fasting and whether it's a table service set menu or a buffet, it usually begins with a traditional drink like laban or perhaps a fresh juice and water as well as dates or dried fruit. 

After the initial food, people will go to pray the Maghrib prayer, then return for the rest of the meal. If it's a buffet, they may already have filled their plates before going to prayer, and you can do the same but let people who are fasting go first - their need is greater! Once people return to finish eating, the tvs go off and either a live oud player is present or traditional music is played for ambiance. 

Traditional food during the holy month is the best! We love the buffets with massive urns of lamb ouzi, where the lamb sits resplendent on a bed of rice with nuts, fruit and lashings of fried onion. There is usually machboos as well as biryani and if you’re lucky, shawarma, manakish cooked to order and tons of Arabic sweets. These are small cakes and pastries like sweet and sticky baklawa, delicate basboussa and halawet al jibn. There’s always a tureen of the very famous Umm Ali, Arabia’s answer to bread pudding, as well as luqaimat, small balls of deep fried dough doused in a sticky date syrup. 

Most hotel iftars also have some non-Arabic but much loved dishes like rice and pasta, sushi and grills and Indian food as well as some very fancy desserts. 

Iftar is not a meal that’s sat over: once you’re done eating, it’s time to go. 


Suhoor is the meal eaten before the break of dawn, to prepare for a day of fasting. In Abu Dhabi, we’re lucky enough to be able to enjoy suhoor in almost every restaurant, which often doubles as a time to sit with friends or family late into the night, usually from around 9.30PM. Suhoor offerings often come in the form of a set menu and at this time of year, many sit over it with a shisha. 

The Sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) states that “the best pre-fasting meal for the believer is dates” and these often come amped up, with flavours like pistachio to really give a celebratory feel. 


While many restaurants will remain open, cafes especially may observe Ramadan timings which means they may not open until after sunset. We’ll keep you posted on which places are open during the day.


Ramadan is a particularly tolerant time of year for everyone, but in order to allow everyone the opportunity to make the most of the holy month, here are some tips:

  • Greet people with Ramadan Kareem or Ramadan Mubarak

  • Avoid the roads in the late afternoon. If people who are fasting are late home, having not eaten or drank all day, things tend to get a little out of whack.

  • Dress more respectfully than usual. This means covering your shoulders and knees when you attend iftars and in the malls and public places at other times. 

  • Be mindful that this is a holy month in an Islamic country. Although in recent years, it’s become pretty much business as usual for expats, it’s respectful to consider your language and demeanour. 

  • Avoid loud music and drinking water in public, including in your car

  • If someone invites you to go to their home for iftar, go: it’s an honour to be asked. 

  • Don’t eat or drink in front of fasting colleagues at work

  • Understand that for most people who fast, Ramadan is a privilege, not a punishment


Can I go to an iftar if I’m not fasting? 

Yes and it’s an amazing thing to do at least once during the holy month.

It’s my first Ramadan: what does this look like in the office? 

Office hours will be shortened to accommodate those who are fasting. Usually this will be from around 9.30AM - 3PM, but is different for every workplace. You will not be able to eat or drink around your fasting colleagues during Ramadan and often an area will be set aside where those not fasting can eat. 

What about school?

Schools also observe Ramadan timings. Many schools start at 9.30AM and can finish anywhere from 1.30PM. Those who fast will often be given an area to congregate during breaks and usually students are asked not to drink in front of their peers during class time. 

If I’m invited to an iftar meal at someone’s house, should I bring something?

If you’re invited to a private home for iftar, it’s traditional to bring a gift. Something small like a box of fancy dates or chocolates, or another kind of Ramadan sweet is perfect. 

Ramadan Kareem everyone!

Danika Star