Ramadan comes around once every year, and it’s an additional consideration travelers may need to think about depending on what country they’re visiting. While you may have plans to travel to certain destinations that partake in Ramadan, it’s culturally respectful to fully understand what the month is and how you can be a good traveler in these countries.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar and happens once a year. The tradition of Ramadan dates back thousands of years and is also the fourth pillar of Islam. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunup to sundown, in addition to reading the entire Qu’ran in 30-days and extending prayers. It’s considered the holiest month due to its purpose of building and seeking God-consciousness while also being a month where Muslims try to find ways to be extremely charitable, feed others, and increase their acts of kindness in words and actions. At the end of the 30-days, Muslims celebrate a three-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr, or the “festival of breaking the fast.”
What to expect
Ramadan is a much more subdued time of year for predominantly Muslim countries. If you’re used to the bustling energy of a country like Egypt, expect to see less people on the streets than normal. In addition, the call to prayer will be something you will readily hear five times a day over outdoor loudspeakers, which is typical for Muslim countries.
Are you expected or required to fast? No. However, if you were to ever have empathy for people, trying it out will show you just how difficult it can be for people’s sleep patterns and accomplish their normal day-to-day tasks. Understand that while these countries are majority Muslim, many are also Christian, Buddhist, and many other faiths that don’t fast for Ramadan. For destinations that highly depend on tourism, such as the Maldives, tour operators, vendors, and restaurants will operate business as usual, but plan for some business to only be in operation in the evening once the fast is broken.
How to be a respectful tourist
Ramadan is an extremely vigorous month and in countries that are hot or humid, imagine how you’d feel fasting from food and water and still having to work through the entire day.
Here’s how to be a respectful tourist during Ramadan:
Offer grace: People will not have the same energy and vigor due to a heightened feeling of tiredness. Be less demanding and more accommodating because Ramadan is not easy, but you don’t have to make it harder.
Tip more: Many of the Muslims that are fasting but work in the service industry are showing up because you are present, so if you’d normally tip 10-15%, double it to show your gratitude.
Feed people: There are many countries where there are people much less fortunate than you who do not have the ability to get jobs that make livable wages. Ramadan is a time when everyone focuses on feeding each other to retain blessings. So if you have leftovers you may not finish or want to buy a meal for someone, that level of charity goes a long way during this time.
Follow a more modest dress code: Modesty doesn’t require you to be completely covered head to toe, but to ensure that your arms, legs, and chest are covered. This is a holy month, so if you’re out and about in the street and not on a resort, just be mindful of showing respect through how you’re dressed.
Remember, you don’t have to be Muslim to have manners and show gratitude for the privilege of traveling to places during Ramadan. Enter your travels, during the month, with patience and just be a gracious guest.
Countries that are predominantly Muslim
Here’s a list of countries that are predominantly Muslim, to get an idea of expectations you should have before traveling to them:
Islam as state religion
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
Population majority Muslim (but separation of religion and state)
- Burkina Faso
- The Gambia
- Northern Cyprus
Majority Muslim population
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Sierra Leone