There’s barely a few hours left of Ramadan this year, but we thought we’d pause to consider what Ramadan is all about and what it’s like to be a non-Muslim traveling in the Muslim world during this most sacred month.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar. It’s the time during which the Qu’ran was revealed to Muhammad. During Ramadan, all able-bodied adults abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and all physical and moral profanity during the day.
Muslims fast from dawn to dusk to practice humility, patience, and sacrifice and to fulfill Sawm, the Fourth Pillar of Islam. Many claim it’s a cleansing experience, one that helps Muslims focus on the needs of others and increase their charitable contributions. Others feel Ramadan has an equalizing effect on the community; taxi driver and royalty alike must fast and may be more hungry, grouchy, and lethargic than normal. Ramadan unifies the community.
Non-Muslims need not fast during Ramadan but it’s important to respect the customs and faith of those around you. In some nations, such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco, Ramadan may barely be noticeable, while in more conservative nations such as Libya, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, much is changed during this time.
Keep these tips in mind while traveling in the Muslim world during Ramadan:
- Do not eat, smoke, or drink (even water) in public during the day. If you’re hungry or thirsty, consume what you need and want in private. Most restaurants outside of hotels are closed during the day and open after the sun has set for Iftar (the daily, fast-breaking evening meal). During the day, room service is a great option.
- If you’re not sure that what you’re doing is appropriate, be sensitive to the looks and nonverbal expressions of those around you. If you transgress a norm, you’ll get a chiding look but will likely not be told flat out you’re doing something wrong until the police arrive.
- It’s not just consumption that is constrained during this time but also loud music, violence, sexual gestures or public displays of affection. As with food, drinking, and smoking, keep it private and keep it in check to best respect those around you.
- Keep in mind that those around you haven’t eaten since the before-dawn meal, so they’re likely hungry, tired, and potentially grouchy. Slow yourself down and be patient.
- Many businesses and museums may close early so people can get home to prepare the Iftar meal. Be attentive to opening hours and be flexible.
- Alcohol may be available at restaurants during Iftar but in general, sales of alcohol will be heavily restricted during this time.
- Clubs and live entertainment will not be available during this time.
IT wants to know: Are you traveling in the Muslim world during Ramadan? What are your experiences with Ramadan? Do you fast? What are some of the most savory Iftar foods you’ve tasted?
Photo: Minarets at Dawn, Medina, Saudi Arabia by Shabbir Siraj via the Intelligent Travel Flickr pool.