So the ninth month of the Muslim year has finally arrived and that means keeping fast from dawn (fajr) to sunset (maghrib). This 29-30 day fast, according to the visual sighting of the crescent moon, is compulsory for all Muslims past the age of puberty. As one of the five pillars of Islam, Muslims around the world will observe a fast from all bodily pleasures in obedience to God.
As one abstains from permissible things like food and drink, one is more likely to feel conscious of his or her sins, therefore one must not conduct ignorant and indecent speech, or lustful thoughts otherwise one’s fasting becomes reduced to that of starvation. Upon abstaining from food and water, Muslims will also be engaged in spiritual activities such as acts of charity, communal gatherings and helping others. However, if one is sick, nursing or travelling, one is considered exempt from fasting. When travelling, if you feel that you are unable to sustain the journey without food and drink, then you can always make it up later.
Travelling to the Middle East during the Holy Month: Dos and Don’ts
If you are planning a trip to the Middle East or any Muslim-majority country such as Egypt, Morocco, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Oman during this month, there are some dos and don’ts you should definitely be mindful of…
You should be respectful and not eat or drink in places other than the major tourist spots as it is frowned upon. In places like Dubai or Saudi Arabia, foreigners have even been arrested for eating and drinking in public! So, if you are unsure of where to do so, just check with the laws of the country you are visiting or visit the nearest British embassy.
Similarly, you’ll find that both businesses will shorten their operating hours to accommodate the majority of their fasting employees and provide the opportunity to focus on Ramadan – opening times may vary from 9am to 3pm. In this case, make sure to plan any excursions or trips with this in mind! Importantly, most restaurants will be closed all day and then open just before sunset and close at sunrise or dawn. This can be a unique and exciting experience, especially if you haven’t experienced Middle Eastern culture before. Breaking the fast is a special time and usually starts with eating a date, drinking some water, following by a soup… you’ll be surprised how full you get after 18 hours of not eating! Fasting or not, you will be immersed in the Muslim way of life and Middle Eastern culture! The FCO’s Travel Aware website provides more detail about what Ramadan means for Muslims, as well as specific travel-related advice when visiting Muslim countries.
Following the end of this 30 day fast, Muslims around world gather in celebration for what is called Eid-Al-Fitr, the festival which marks the end of this holy month. The festival is complemented by lots of traditional food, celebrations and family get-togethers. For more information regarding travel to these countries, check out the FCO Travel Aware page. Be sure to check out the FCO’s website, Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram for travel updates, tips and advice.
Sara Miah is a third-year Politics student and Student Brand Ambassador for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.