Although I subconsciously knew that Ramadan was around the corner, my mom just reminded me I have less than a week to wean off my unruly caffeine addiction. Easier said than done – I’m fully expecting to sleep in during my first few days of fasting. Thank goodness I don’t wake up for work at 5 am anymore huh? Anyway, I digress…
What is Ramadan?
For those of you who don’t know, every year on the 9th month of the lunar calendar, millions of Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for 30 days. Yes, this means no food or water even if you’re really, really thirsty (seriously, people ask me that). To us, it’s not just about fasting from food and water, but about spiritual reflection as well. It’s a month of increased prayer, charity and hospitality. It’s also a time to refrain from bad behavior and thoughts – think cursing, gossiping, and all the other habits that you promised yourself you’d break on January 1st ;). Ramadan starts on June 5th this year. For a basic breakdown on FAQs, you can read this link, but feel free to ask me questions as well!
For all intents and purpose of this being a travel site and all, I’m sharing with you some tips on what to expect when traveling to a Muslim-majority country during Ramadan, as well as a few rules to follow in order to be respectful of local cultures during this time.
Who observes Ramadan?
Well, there are Muslim communities pretty much everywhere, but the only places where Ramadan may affect your travels are in Muslim-majority countries. The Middle-East and North Africa, parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, and a couple of countries is Southeast Asia more or less cover it. Note that intensity of practice varies widely depending on the country. This list offers some good country-specific tips.
Know your terminology:
- Ramadan: The Muslim holy month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for 30 days.
- Iftar: This translates directly to breakfast and refers to sunset when people break their fast.
- Suhoor: This refers to the meal that people oftentimes eat before the sun rises to try to keep the morning hunger at bay. Many hotels and restaurants open for suhoor.
- Eid-al-Fitr: Translating directly to “breakfast celebration,” this refers to the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan and fasting.
Tips for Traveling During Ramadan:
1. Don’t eat or drink publicly during the day
While nobody will chide you for eating and it certainly isn’t against the law, it’s a tad disrespectful when everyone is you know, starving. Some countries are stricter than others, but as a general rule, try to be discreet and bring lots of snacks and water. Also, note that in many places, restaurants will be closed to the public in preparation for breakfast at sundown and it may be harder to find local food in general. Prepare accordingly!
2. Avoid alcohol
Alcohol is forbidden for Muslims, although this a rule that many people and countries follow quite loosely except during Ramadan. Many countries (including the oh-so-popular Morocco) actually go dry for Ramadan: sales of alcohol are forbidden for the entire month. If you’re staying at a beach resort or upscale hotel somewhere, you should still have access to drinks, but either way, Ramadan certainly isn’t the best time for a boozy holiday. As Aretha Franklin once sang, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T!”
3. Dress appropriately
In all honesty, I’ve found that it’s important to dress modestly in many Muslim countries year-round, but it’s especially important during Ramadan. Locals can spot the tourists so just try not to be too skimpy or revealing. Also, no PDA. This can get you in trouble on a normal day in some places, so better safe than sorry.
4. Plan ahead
Normally bustling cities tend to slow down during Ramadan and many office and store hours are shortened. While many places come alive at night and can stay open until the wee hours of the morning, don’t expect shops to be opening bright and early. If you’re one of those people who travels on a tight schedule, be sure to do extra research for opening times of attractions, tours, and restaurants.
5. Become a night owl
The nightclubs and bars don’t turn around and open after sunset, but the streets come alive after everyone has broken their fast. Many shops sell special Ramadan treats, and cafes and public spaces are open late to accommodate socializing, family time, and suhoor. Don’t hesitate to join in on the local festivities! If you can join a family for iftar or walk by the local mosque at sunset, do it. You get to observe the local culture in action and really get a taste for the special time that is Ramadan – a time for hospitality and generosity.
At the end of the day, Ramadan isn’t just about not eating or drinking. It’s a month when millions of people join their family and friends to eat, celebrate, and reflect. It’s a time of charity and appreciation and despite the hanger pains, a time that the whole community really comes together. While it certainly isn’t the most convenient time to travel, it is by far one of the most interesting. If you can get past the pain points and the occasional hangry person like me, you’ll gain a little more insight on a religion that the whole world should certainly learn more about. Happy travels – and to my fellow Muslims out there – Ramadan Kareem!
Have you ever traveled to a Muslim-majority country during Ramadan? What was your experience like? Share in the comments below!