Ramadan is a spiritual month for Muslims – but logistical nightmare for travellers? Heed the advice on our country-by-country to travel during the Ramadan month!
For most of us, the joy of travel stems simply from the chance to sample an unknown country, environment and culture. No trip would be complete without gorging on traditional cuisine, wandering through bustling markets, and sharking a drink in local watering holes. BUT what if your arrive to find everything shut down and the streets near-deserted?
Ramadan falls in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar year, Ramadan is an opportunity for Muslims to strength their religion with their God, Allah. Healthy adults retain themselves from smoking, sex, drinking and eating during the daylight hours, with some even choosing not to swallow saliva. In some cases, public observance of the fast is mandatory even for non-Muslims, but this various by religion. It’s not all about deprivation, however: this is an intensely spiritual month, which ‘purifies’ the soul and brings families and friends together.
BREAKING THE FAST
The daily fast ends with iftar, the first meal taken after nightfall; and the meals and celebrations often continue long into the night. The month reaches a climax with Eid al-Fitr, the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast – a three-day holiday marked by the exchanging gifts, family visits and vast meals.
In strict Muslims areas, travellers should always abide by Ramadan customs in public, Matthew Teller, Middle East expert and author of Rough Guide to Oman and Insight Guide to Jordan, is clear with his advice, “there aren’t many difference between conservative counties – just don’t eat, drink, smoke, kiss, hug, hold hands or play loud music in public areas”. In less strict regions and multi-faith countries it’s unlikely you’ll be expected to retain yourself, but be discreet; those who are fasting won’t relish having to watch you eat lunch.
Still up for the adventure? Read on for our country-by-country guide to Ramadan.
Just over half of Malaysia’s population are Muslim, so Ramadan has a considerable impact. Non-Muslims aren’t required to fast, however, Muslim-run eateries won’t open until mid-afternoon, but the vibrant pasar Ramadan, markets selling vast quantities of iftar sweets and savouries, are worth the wait. Public transport is awkward at best.
As well as fasting and abstaining from smoking and drinking, many Indonesians also pay respects at family graves and royal cemeteries. Muslim-run restaurants remain firmly shut in the daylight hours, but Christian, Chinese and Balinese businesses and facilities are open for business. Non-Muslims aren’t required to partake in the fasting, but should be discreet in public areas. Finding food is likely to be most tricky in remote parts of west Java, south Sumatra and Aceh.
Islamic communities are found mostly on Kenya’s coast and throughout the northeast, so any travel disruptions should be limited to these areas. Most small restaurants close during the daylight hours, and fasting is widespread. There is little pressure for non-Muslims to participate. Public transport and official business aren’t generally affected in Mombasa and Malindi, but expect disruptions futher up the coast.
Ramadan is observed with fervour throughout the kingdom, and public observance of the fast is mandatory. Non-Muslims are not expected to fast behind closed doers, but the mutawwa (religious police) occasionally offer screened eating areas, but plan ahead. Evenings are lively, with people coming together to eat, drink, pray and shop.
Everyone, regardless of religion, is required to fast in public. You’ll find room service and screened eating areas in most large hotels, but prepared to be hustled away from public view. If offered refreshments by a Muslim, visitors should refuse initially to avoid offence. If the host continues to insist, agree of refrain at your discretion. Dance clubs remain shut, live music is prohibited, and camel racing cases for the month. Bars are dry until sunset. The shopping malls heave with customers after dark: this is one of the handful of annual occasions when wide-spread promotions and sales are permitted.
Although non-Muslims visitors are permitted to smoke, eat and drink, as matter of courtesy such activities should be kept away from those who are fasting. Alcohol is not sold during Ramadan, and government offices tend to close at 2pm. Look out for frenzied iftar feasts and buzzing street-life as night falls, however Luxor’s Alub el Haggag Mosque is the focus of vibrant celebrations throughout the month.
Ramadan, or Ramazan as it’s known here, varying degrees of difficulty for travellers. In the larger cities and along the Mediterranean coast, limited restaurants and shops are open for non-Muslims. Head further east, however, and you’ll find limited conveniences until sundown. In Istanbul, crowds gather I Sultanahmet Square for iftar, with reading from the Qu’ran and Sufi music concerts.
Ramadan is taken very seriously in Oman; non-Muslims should refrain from eating, drinking and smoking in public. Eateries are bars will be firmly shut, and daytime entertainment and shopping will be limited. Large hotels will offer food to travellers but you’ll be restricted to screened rooms, tucked away from those who are fasting.
Ramadan is enforced by both religious and civil law. Restaurants stay closed until sunset, and shops operate shortened opening hours. It’s illegal for supermarkets and restaurants to sell alcohol throughout the month – even Christian-run businesses. Travellers are expected to observe the fast policy, but large hotels will serve daytime food to non-Muslims. Iftar celebrations tend to be more subdued than those in other conservative Muslim countries – a far cry from Egypt’s street parties.