The culture and traditions of the United Arab Emirates are firmly grounded in the Islamic heritage of the Arab region. Islam believes that there is only one God and that Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) is his messenger.  The word “Islam” means submission and refers to submission to God’s will. It comes from the same root as the word for peace.

Islam refers to the religion; Muslim refers to those who practice the religion.

The Holy Qur’an (the book of Islam; “recitation”) was revealed to the Prophet during a period of twenty three years from 609 to 632, the year of his death.

There are five pillars of Islam which all Muslims must follow:

  • Faith – Belief in the Oneness of God and the Messenger-ship of Muhammad
  • Prayer – To observe the daily prayers regularly
  • Charity – To pay the religious tax which is known as alms
  • Fasting – To keep the fast of the Holy Month of Ramadan
  • Pilgrimage (Haj) – To make a pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca at least once in one’s lifetime

Islam is a faith of positive action and a way of living as well as a belief system.  Religion is an integral part of daily life for Muslims.

The Islamic holy day is Friday.

Muslims are required to pray five times daily, facing Mecca. The regular call to prayer can be heard through loudspeakers on the top of the minarets of mosques throughout the communities.  People may pray at a mosque but you will also see people at prayer in other locations or even at the side of the road.  It is courteous not to stare and to walk politely around their prayer rugs.  You must not walk directly in front of a praying person.

While the UAE is a Muslim country, they are very tolerant of other religions and a diverse range of churches and places of worship can be found.

The Holy Month of Ramadan

Ramadan is the Holy Month where Muslims commemorate the revelation of the Holy Qur’an.

During Ramadan (the exact dates move forward by approximately eleven days each year), Muslims do not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. In the evening at sundown, the fast is broken with “iftar” (literally “break fast”).  Visitors, including non-Muslims, may not eat, drink or smoke in public places during this time.  Most restaurants are closed during the day, however some continue to operate with take-away or delivery service. Hotels continue to serve food to their guests, either in guest rooms or in a secluded area of the hotel. Additionally, the sale of alcohol is restricted to after sunset, many shops and parks open and close later, some office hours are reduced, and no dancing or live music is allowed.

It is a time when “day becomes night, and night becomes day”.  Ramadan tents are erected all over the cities and in hotels.  People from all nationalities gather in the evenings to eat traditional Arabic food and sweets or to smoke shisha.