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Holidays in the UAE

Muslim festivals take place based on local sighting of various lunar phases, so dates given for Muslim holidays are approximate
Muslim festivals take place based on local sighting of various lunar phases, so dates given for Muslim holidays are approximate.

Ashura is observed on the 10th of Muharram, which is the first month of the Islamic year. In AD 622, Muhammad declared Ashura a fasting day from sunset to sunset. This may have been patterned on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. In tradition, Ashura marks the day Nuh – known to Jews and Christians as Noah – got off the ark, and the day Musa – Moses to Christians and Jews - was saved from the Egyptians.

For Sunni Muslims, Ashura is a voluntary fast, but among Shi’ites, Ashura is the tazia, a major festival commemorating the death of Husayn, grandson of Muhammed in AD680 in Karbala, Iraq. This death led to the split between the Sunni and Shia Islamic sects. Shi’a Muslims observe Ashura as a day of public expressions of mourning and grief, with ritual self flagellation and passion plays commemorating Husayn’s death.

Mouloud, celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammed, was celebrated on March 9 in 2009. The date varies with the phases of the moon. Also in 2009, Leilat al-Meiraj, or the holiday for the Ascension of the Prophet takes place on or near July 20.

In the United Arab Emirates, the holy month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar) begins on Friday, August 21, 2009, and will continue for 30 days, ending Saturday, September 19, 2009. In Muslim calendars, holidays begin on sunset of the previous day, so Muslims will begin observation of Ramadan at sunset on Thursday, August 20, 2009. During Ramadan, business patterns may be interrupted, with many restaurants being closed during the day, and restrictions on smoking and drinking being implemented in some places.

Ramadan occurs on the same day each year if one is referring to the Islamic calendar, but going by the Gregorian calendar, Ramadan varies by several days each year. This is because the Gregorian-based calendar is based on the solar cycle and the Islamic religious calendar is based on lunar cycles. In the lunar calendar, there are 12 lunar months, but only 354 or 355 days. The day of Ramadan may also vary at different sites on the globe depending on whether the moon has been sighted or not.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast, meaning that they eat or drink nothing – including water – while the sun shines. Muslims from the age of about 12 participate in fasting during Ramadan. Fasting is intended to remind Muslims of the suffering of the poor, help them practice self-control, and cleanse the body and mind.

Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan will take place Sept. 21. This “Festival of Breaking the Fast” is one of the two most prominent Islamic celebrations. The other takes place after the Hajj, which is the pilgrimage to Mecca. At Eid al-Fitr, Muslims dress in their finest clothes, decorate their houses with lights and decorations, visit friends and family, and give treats to children.

Eid al-Adha is the religious festival of sacrifice observed by Muslims all over the world for the commemoration of Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice son Ishmael in obedience to God. Eid al-Adha falls on the day after pilgrims participating in the Hajj, which is the pilgrimage to Mecca, return from their ascent up Mount Arafat. Both Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha can last anywhere from two to ten days depending on the region.

Al Hijra, or the Islamic New Year is the first day of the month of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar. The day marks the Hijar in 622 AD when the Prophet Muhammad moved to Medina from Mecca and started the first Islamic state. Al Hijra is a subdued celebration among Muslims, with festivities much less prominent than those of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

Al Hijra marks the beginning of Islam as a community where spiritual and earthly life are completely integrated. When the Prophet Muhammad was confronted with the choice of integration of the life of the body of the spirit, he broke his link with his own tribe, thus demonstrating that family and tribal loyalties were insignificant compared to the bonds of the Muslim faith.

Throughout the year, Friday is an important day for Muslims, who believe that devotional acts done on this day are more highly rewarded than on other days. Friday, however, is not a Muslim version of the Judeo-Christian Sabbath, because Muslims do not believe that God rested after the creation. Friday is special due to the belief that Adam was created on that day. Fridays are often marked by believers attending congregational prayer at a mosque and listening to a sermon by the Imam.

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