With around 25% of the planet being Muslim, Ramadan is a big deal. And if you’re visiting a Muslim country during the fasting period, it can be hard to know what you can do.
After all, if you’re not fasting, you’re going to want to drink or eat something sooner or later. But as a non-Muslim, how do you behave around your hosts? Is anything going to cause offence?
This quick guide to how to behave during Ramadan will ensure you avoid cultural faux pas.
Some countries are more specific about how non-Muslims act than others, but in general, being discreet about eating, drinking and smoking during Ramadan is the best idea.
Majority Muslim countries will expect travellers to be compliant with local customs, so if you’re in places like Egypt, Jordan, UAE (or anywhere on the Arabian peninsula), you should respect the fast. If you need to eat or drink it’s best to do it in private.
Malaysia, Indonesia, Kenya and other countries with sizeable Muslim populations usually close down businesses for half days. If you’re in a resort or there is a non-Muslim area, it might be best to hang out there during the days.
Be patient and respectful
You might notice that people are a little more short tempered or service is a little slow during the day in Muslim countries. Well, if you weren’t eating or drinking all day you’d get a little sluggish and snappy too.
Be patient, put a smile on and just say thank you. Better still say, “Ramadan Mubarak” (happy Ramadan).
Dress more modestly than you might normally
During Ramadan, people are expected to be more modest and respectful and that includes visitors. Guys and girls should cover up more than usual, so men should wear long sleeves and avoid shorts. Women visiting the more liberal Muslim countries such as Indonesia or Turkey are strongly advised to wear a head scarf in public.
If you’re only visiting for a few days, why not do your own Ramadan fasting? It’ll make it easier to empathise with the locals and then if you go to any iftar feasts (the big communal feeds at sun down) then you’ll have an even better understanding of the ins and outs of Ramadan.
Even if you don’t fast completely, cutting out smoking (if you do smoke) and eating little will be an interesting way for you to get some insight into the culture.
Be aware of local laws around Ramadan
It’s hard to give a blanket approach to Ramadan around the world as some countries are more strict than others. For example, in Saudi Arabia, Dubai or Qatar, you’re going to find it hard to avoid being caught up in Ramadan as most restaurants and many shops will be closed anyway. India, Tanzania and Kenya will be business as usual in much of the country.
Check up on local laws before you go.