Ramadan is nearing - check out these travel tips for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. (Photo: iStock)
Ramadan is coming up on Wednesday, May 16 and we've got some travel tips and tricks and suggestions for you to consider - whether you're Muslim or not.
The month that signifies a time of peace, forgiveness, kindness, introspection and prayer for the many who practice and partake the world over is upon us and here's what to expect.
Ramadan is a month long period in which Muslims fast during the day. This means that Muslims abstain from eating, drinking liquids, smoking and engaging in gossip or sexual relations from dawn to dusk.
The day starts off with a Suhoor (pre-dawn meal) and comes to a close when when the fast is broken with an Iftar (evening meal) after sunset. The reasoning behind fasting is to gain closeness to Allah - aka 'God' in Islam.
READ: Emirates' Iftar meal boxes return for month of Ramadan
It is a process by depriving the body of gluttony and the usual things that tend to preoccupy our daily lives and offer time to focus on those in need of our help within the society around us. It also allows for a space in which you can let go of any grudges and negativity that might have been stuck with you or harboured within you over the past year.
It is a sacred time for all of those partaking - as Nicky Potgieter, Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) says, "Ramadan is a time of kindness, tolerance and generosity. One only needs to attend one of the Iftar meals after sunset to immerse yourself in the fascinating culture and traditions of the locals."
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However, many tend to avoid predominantly Muslim travel destinations during Ramadan, but, Potgieter says that that is the best time to visit these destinations.
"Think Iftar tents in public spaces and restaurants welcoming people to come and share in the breaking of their daily fasts. In places like Morocco, the whole street comes out to spend time with family and friends, and you'll join the locals for snacks and shisha until late at night," Potgieter added. "It may take a little time to get used to a quieter day and tap your inner night owl, but you won’t regret your Ramadan visit if you do."
Some tips Flight Centre and International SOS have put out for travellers visiting predominantly Muslim countries over this period include:
Do not eat or drink in public
- During Ramadan, it is considered impolite to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours. So, if you’re travelling to a Muslim country during Ramadan, you will need to be flexible about meals and even when you shop, as many restaurants will be closed during the day-time hours, in preparation for their night-time Iftar meal - which tend to go on until early morning hours. You'll also find malls and restaurants are particularly crowded after sunset as locals go out in their numbers after a day of fasting. If you thought New York is the city that never sleeps - you've yet to witness a predominantly Muslim city during Ramadan. Restaurants and hotels often provided screened eating areas to cater for visitors who are not fasting. If you're travelling over Ramadan, it may be a good idea to carry emergency snacks that you can eat in private – we find that dates are a great snack to keep your energy levels up.
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Dress and act modestly
- Ramadan is a time of modesty and devoutness, which means when visiting hotels, restaurants, malls or shops, you should be modest in your dress and refrain from wearing revealing, tight or flimsy clothing (that includes white for women or clothing made from any sheer material). We find that, for women, long, flowing and opaque dresses work best and keep you cool under the sun. It's also important for travellers to avoid public displays of affection, listen to loud music and chew gum in public. Although this advice applies to Ramadan, we would strongly advise travellers to be modest in their behaviour and dress throughout the year, not just over Ramadan. A little respect for local customs goes a long way.
If you're travelling for business…
- Understand that during Ramadan, it is likely that your work colleagues in Muslim countries are going to work shorter office hours. Schedule your meetings in the morning when fasting business people are less tired and certainly never over lunch or coffee breaks. If you are offered refreshments during the day, you should respectfully decline these. If you do need to eat or drink something, do so in private.
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Where to go to experience Ramadan in 2018:
Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
- Dubai and Abu Dhabi are both easy to travel to for South Africans and cater for expats and tourists who are visiting the UAE over Ramadan. In addition to hotels and restaurants offering screened-off areas for non-fasting visitors to eat during daylight hours, the variety of Iftar evening meals hosted by the country's hotels and even in public spaces like mosques, is incredible. Take advantage of your visit to delve into Arab culture and cuisine.
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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Malaysian nights are magic during Ramadan. Visitors will be overwhelmed by the array of street stalls selling local delicacies and the sound of Raya songs being played on almost every street corner. Observing Ramadan is not as strict in Kuala Lumpur as it is in other parts of the country, as visitors will find food for sale during daylight hours. A particular popular practice in Malaysia is the buka puasa buffet dinners which showcase local Malay cuisine. One of the best places to sample these is KL Tower, which offers a choice of 80 international and local dishes, including Nasi Kerabu and Pulut Panggang, as well as access to the Observation Deck for great views of the Kuala Lumpur cityscape. Not to miss: In addition to the Bazaar Ramadan, which Malaysian locals love, there's a "nostalgic" Ramadan journey on offer at Kuala Lumpur's Convention Centre where visitors can taste traditional favourites from various Malaysian states.
- While Istanbul's observance of Ramadan is more liberal than in other parts of the country, it still puts on quite a show at night as families and friends gather to public areas and indulge in street-food treats. Like other Muslim countries, Turkey shares the Iftar tradition, with shared tables in restaurants and tents in public areas designed to bring people together to share in the spirit of Ramadan and enjoy such favourites as Ramadan pide and güllac dessert. Istanbul in particular features Ramadan drummers, who walk through some of the city’s neighbourhoods drumming before dawn so that practicing Muslims can wake up in time for Suhoor (pre-dawn meal). Not to miss: Rub shoulders with the locals and indulge in an Iftar picnic in the gardens of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
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- This is one destination where you'll benefit from 'fitting in' with Ramadan time. The Medina of Fez is almost deserted during the day and if you've come to Morrocco to buy beautiful carpets and pottery, you'll be disappointed because many shops and stalls will be closed until after sunset. But if you do manage to set your body clock to local time, you'll adore the vibrant energy of Jemaa el-Fnaa after dark with music, dancing and story tellers keeping locals and travellers fully entertained. Not to miss: Indulge in the local sellou, an almond, sesame seed, cinnamon treat that is presented in various ways – powder, a decorated cone, a moulded mount or compact balls or squares. This Moroccan tradition is served during Ramadan to break a fast.
ALSO SEE THIS Quick Guide: Magical Morocco
Muslim travellers needn't fret:
Qatar has announced its plan to present passengers celebrating the month of Ramadan with pre-packaged Ifar boxes for them to break their fast with at the correct time on selected flight routes. the boxes will include a variety of healthy snack options for passengers to enjoy while aboard their flights.
The boxes will be available on selected flights to or from Basra, Kuwait, Muscat, Shiraz, Sohar, Amman, Khartoum, Mashad, Najaf, Sulaimaniyah, Baghdad, Salalah, Erbil, Dhaka, and Hyderabad, Algiers, and Tunis (outbound only). With the possibility of additional destinations being applied depending on schedule changes.
The appropriate time for when to present passengers with the box is calculated by the Airline crew beforehand depending on the flight route and the time zone difference between the destinations.
"Travelling between time zones can be challenging for the fasting traveller, thus Qatar Airways cabin crew will make an announcement and serve Iftar boxes at the appropriate time during the flight, alleviating passengers from having to calculate the time," Qatar's press release went on to say.
Qatar Airways Iftar box. (Photo: Supplied)
Be sure to also check out the following halaal and halaal-friendly options around SA when visiting: