We as travelers know that countries have different cultures and different practices in their faith, that’s one of the biggest reasons why we are traveling in the first place. Exploring the unknown widens our horizon.
If you get the chance to travel while a country is celebrating a big religious event, you will most likely have the experience of your lifetime. It’s important to know what’s happening though, so you fully understand and enjoy the celebration instead of running into problems.
If you are traveling to any country where Islam is the dominant religion, then remember they celebrate Ramadan for a whole month each year. Before you go, you should take into account some Do’s and Don’ts, do some research and know what goes on during this time of the year. In 2017, Ramadan takes place from Friday, May 26 to Saturday, June 24.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar. It is also a commemoration of the first revelation of the Qu’ran to the prophet Mohammed. During Ramadan, Muslims all over the world fast from dawn to sunset.
It is one of Islam’s five pillars, the other four are: Salat (prayer), Shahada (an affirmation that there is no deity besides God and his prophet Muhammed), Zakat (charity) and Hajj (taking at least a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca).
Ramadan is supposed to be a time where Muslims cleanse themselves – thus the fast. It’s a time in the year where they dedicate their lives to faith and worship, clear up any wrong doings and strengthen relationships with family members. Asides from restraining from eating and drinking, it is also not allowed to curse, to gossip, to smoke or to engage in sexual activities during these hours.
Ramadan Kareem means Ramadan is a time of generosity. The whole purpose of this month is to feel for the less fortunate, the ones who don’t have constant access to water and food. People tend to give more to charity organizations and people in need, like the Western world often does around Christmas.
Popular tourist destinations that celebrate Ramadan are e.g. Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, Indonesia or Tunisia. It’s important that you pay respect and find out what goes on during this time so you don’t run the risk of offending anyone.
Islam is a traveler-friendly religion
I found it very interesting to hear that the Islam makes an exception for travelers. Muslims who are traveling during Ramadan don’t have to fast as it’s already difficult enough under normal circumstances at home. I love the idea that religion supports traveling!
Have some consideration
Bear in mind that for the whole day, from the moment the sun rises until it sets, Muslims are not eating or drinking anything. Even just a sip of water is enough to break the commitment to Ramadan. You may think: “Hey, I’m not Muslim, why should I care about Ramadan?”
Well, if you’re the kind of tourist who doesn’t leave their All Inclusive Resort the whole week, you don’t have to care really. I assume though that you want to be a real traveler and experience local life. If not, you can close this blog, it’s not for you.
Most of us have probably been on a diet a few times to get ready for that beach vacation. Remember those friends who would intentionally stop at every ice cream shop, bring chips and chocolate to the park etc.? Ya, me too. You can’t tell me you didn’t want them to choke on their double cheese pizza. Ehm, sorry. But you didn’t find that particularly respectful, did you?
Now imagine you’re going without food and water all day while it’s 35°C outside. It’s just a little disrespectful to slurp your fresh fruit shake in front of people trying really hard to do something good. It’s just common sense and respect to the locals to have some form of consideration. Of course they wouldn’t want you to starve just because they are, but there’s no need to make them watch you.
In some countries though, like the UAE, it is prohibited by law to eat and drink and smoke in public during Ramadan. You might get a fine even if you are just taking a sip from your water bottle. You see, it really depends on the country and you should do your research on the specific country that you are going to, just to be sure.
In general, just try to take into account some of these considerations, wherever you end up going:
- Try not to eat and drink and smoke in public. Like I mentioned, locals will be understanding and know that you are a tourist. However, it will be better to be a little considerate and maybe just eat inside a restaurant that’s open or in your hotel. In cities that depend on tourism like on the Red Sea e.g. most restaurants are open just like the rest of the year.
- Try not to wear revealing clothes in public. This is the time to be modest. Do not walk around in a bikini or a tight crop top and shorts. Just do it out of respect. Keep remembering that you are not in your own country.
- No touching in public. One of the prohibitions in Ramadan is to stay away from earthly desires and impure thoughts so even if you usually greet your neighbor or Muslim friend with a hug, during Ramadan you shouldn’t.
Plan your activities and shopping ahead
Ramadan also means that you may need to organize when and how you will buy things and where and how you will eat for example. In touristy countries not too much will change for you though. Some shops and banks may adjust their opening hours and there may be places and services that are not operating during the time of the fast, like local street food stalls, coffee shops etc. Tourist restaurants are open, but some may not serve alcohol during Ramadan.
You should still remember that since these people are both working and fasting at the same time, just be a little considerate and mindful. Just to make sure, get your essentials the night before (like water, cigarettes, bread etc.). Some shops could be closed early morning as they take their last meal (suhoor) at dawn and then maybe get up much later in the day.
Share a meal (Iftar) with the locals
As soon as the sun sets, Muslims are allowed to have Iftar, the meal that is taken to break their fast. It’s a really great and big affair and I suggest you try to have it with the locals even if it’s just once! Families prepare Iftar in their homes, some public places and mosques offer food for free to all the fasting Muslims. In Morocco there is even a cannon sounding the end of the fast, and tables of food are laid out in Mosques to serve after prayer. In some markets and streets, special food is made that you can’t get at any other time of the year so this is another reason why Ramadan is a great time to visit. If you don’t know any locals who can invite you to take Iftar at their homes, then some restaurants may serve special set meals during this time.
Eid al-Fitr, The End of Ramadan
Eid is a joyous occasion for all Muslims worldwide. This holiday marks the end of Ramadan and therefore the fast. Muslims celebrate with prayers first and then a feast, a 3-day sugar festival. It’s an incredible occasion to witness and everyone will be celebrating. As with every big holiday in any country you visit, there may also be some interruptions to services and operations in some places and you can expect a bit of traffic on the roads (haha, can’t imagine Cairo with even more traffic!).
Should you visit a Muslim country during Ramadan or not?
You may think that it might not be such a good idea to visit during Ramadan. I think it’s quite the opposite. It’s such a great experience, only during this time you will get a unique in depth look at their culture. This time of the year, it’s like a total shift of gears on their lives and it’s just so amazing and interesting to see!
Try to pass by a Mosque when prayers start and also to witness the end of day, it’s pretty awesome to see thousands of people, all united in prayer and then to see all the activities right after for the Iftar. You will also get to feel what the locals are feeling, the joy and camaraderie when they take the very first meal after a full day of fasting. The streets are never more colorful than now. I encourage you to experience this time at least once in your life, just be sure to take into consideration all that I mentioned above and do more research on the specific country you’re going to!