Traveling during Ramadan can make for one of the most memorable trips of your life. While the festivities and rituals will vary depending on your destination, you will find the same devout observation to this time no matter where you travel in the Muslim world. To experience and enjoy the Ramadan spirit to its fullest – and to show proper respect for believers and their customs – there are a few considerations to keep in mind.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from daybreak to dusk. That’s right: you will find that there are few restaurants and cafes open even in a modern cosmopolitan city like Dubai. Only eateries located in very tourist-heavy areas are allowed to operate and behind curtains.
The pace of the days is generally slower, which can be disappointing for those who like nonstop action. For those travellers who enjoy a more leisurely pace, Ramadan is a wonderful time to experience Muslim culture. Because Ramadan is a time of prayer and acts of charity, you will find small kindnesses extended that make your visit that much more pleasant.
You will find nightlife in Muslim countries during the holy month, albeit in a very different – form. When the sun goes down, the cities and villages in the Muslim world come to life. You will find cafes and coffee shops opening for the night. You can feel the mood lighten, and you will start to smell delicious foods being prepared – with a heavy emphasis on sweets. At night, people break their fast, families are visiting friends, and there is an air of festivity. Music, lights, and community make this a truly remarkable occasion to witness and participate in – and best of all, it lasts for a month!
You cannot eat or drink? Don’t worry; travelers are exempt from fasting. You may certainly eat and drink while travelling during Ramadan, when you like, but just plan ahead. Stock up on provisions before daybreak, as you may find stores closed in the afternoon.
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It is polite to refrain from eating and drinking in front of those who are fasting. Besides being disrespectful of their faith, it’s just plain rude to eat in front of someone who cannot!
Before setting out on your Ramadan travels, it is essential to learn about the importance of the culture and the particular events and festivities that will take place in your particular destination. It is all right to make a faux pas if you are unfamiliar with specific rules or Ramadan rituals; the willingness to apologize and to make the effort is much more important than getting every detail right.
Above all, be respectful. Accept hospitality that is offered, extend kindness, and get into the Ramadan spirit. Even if you are not a Muslim, you will find the holy month to be a deeply moving experience.