Travelling to a Muslim destination during Ramadan and not sure what to expect? We’ve got you covered with all the basics you’ll need to know about the holy month.
What is Ramadan? Ramadan is the holy month of the Islamic calendar, when all Muslims dedicate themselves to religious thoughts. It’s also a time for the whole community to get together, and to be more charitable. In Dubai, for example, traditionally Emirati families would welcome in less wealthy family members and share their food with them — but today, that charitable aspect spreads to the wider community.
How does fasting work? The fast starts at sunrise and finishes at sunset. Fasting (sawm — one of the five pillars of Islam) is a very important part of the holy month, although it is only one piece of the whole process of cleansing your mind and spirit. You should also refrain from drinking alcohol (although typically, practicing Muslims do not drink alcohol at all), sexual activity, swearing, and harmful thoughts.
When is Ramadan? The dates change annually because they are determined by the new moon. The holy month lasts for about 30 days.
What are iftar and sahur? Iftar is the meal after sunset to break the fast. During Ramadan, the tradition is for the whole family (yes, even the extended family — it can be a huge gathering!) to get together and share their meal. It’s often a big feast that starts with dates, and then involves eating for hours. Sahur (also suhoor or sehriis) is the meal before sunrise.
How should I greet locals? Ramadan kareem means “Happy or generous Ramadan,” Ramadan mubarak means “Blessed Ramadan,” and Iftar shahy means “Have a good iftar.”
Here are some other basic tips to ensure you remain respectful of the celebration, while also getting the most out of the experience:
Respect the local culture
This applies to not only dressing conservatively, but also by not eating or drinking in public. Some destinations, such as Dubai, have designated areas for tourists to eat and drink.
Avoid driving or travelling around town just before sunset
In many cities, the streets get quite crowded and there’s crushing traffic as people rush to iftar at home or in the local bazaars.
This is the time of year for charity. Consider donating clothes, or joining a local group to help cook an iftar meal for those in need.
Check the local schedules
Offices and shops may have limited hours to accommodate Ramadan, as workers need to pray and attend iftar at sunset.
Get involved in the iftar experience
This is the best time of the year to try traditional cuisine, whether it’s Emirati food in Dubai or kampung cooking in Malaysia. Around the world, so many restaurants offer iftar, or a special menu for Ramadan, making it easy to join in the celebration (just be sure to book early!). It is the best experience to share your meal with others while you hear local stories and learn more about the religion of Islam.
Read more stories of Ramadan in our special-edition digital magazine.
I’ve spent five years living in the Middle East ( based predominantly out of Cairo but also doing lengthy stints in Turkey and Morocco), and so non-Muslim travellers often ask me if Ramadan is a good time to visit the Islamic world.