recommends the following Ramadan etiquette points for travellers to Muslim countries during Ramadan:
1. Do not eat, drink or smoke in public – during fasting hours in most Muslim countries, it is considered impolite to have food, drink or cigarettes in public view. This also applies to travel on public transportation or in private cars. In countries like Egypt, abstinence from food and drink in public is a matter of courtesy, but in other countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman and the UAE, public observance of the fast is compulsory regardless of religion. Restaurants and cafes close during daylight hours, but most hotels offer room service and screened eating areas to non-Muslim visitors. International SOS advises travellers to check local laws and customs pre-travel, to ensure a smooth trip.
2. Dress modestly – the Holy Month of Ramadan is a time of devoutness, modesty and moderation. Travellers should refrain from wearing revealing clothing out of respect to those observing Ramadan. This is particularly important when visiting malls, hotels and restaurants or Iftar tents in the evening. As a general rule, clothing that is sheer, too short, low-cut or tight-fitting should be avoided, particularly shorts, miniskirts and sleeveless tops.
3. Be mindful of workplace etiquette – business travellers to Muslim countries should respect the shorter office hours and work around them. When having business meetings with Muslims, it is best to schedule them in the morning when people are less tired and can better concentrate. It is also good to make sure that meetings do not occur over lunch, over-run or inconvenience fasting participants. While non-Muslims are permitted to eat and drink behind closed doors, they should avoid doing so in front of fasters and should instead excuse themselves to a more remote area of the office. If offered refreshments by a fasting Muslim, it is considered respectful to decline.
4. Check food and entertainment schedules – if you are travelling to a Muslim country during Ramadan, you should be prepared to be flexible with your food and entertainment plans. Avoid unnecessary travel within an hour of sunset, as traffic will be heavy and accident rates peak, and avoid making dinner reservations around that time, as most restaurants will be busy preparing/serving Iftar. In many places, live music entertainment is prohibited, dance clubs are closed, and bars are kept dry. Shopping malls are usually very crowded in the evening, and many tourist activities are put on hold throughout Ramadan.
5. Additional tips – avoid public displays of affection, listening to loud music and chewing gum in public. Do not order alcohol or pork around Iftar at a restaurant.
Planning a trip to the Middle East this month? You’re in for a treat. Like in other Muslim-majority parts of the world, all attention will be centered on Ramadan, the month-long period of fasting observed annually by all Muslims across the globe. The holiday officially gets underway next week, and is scheduled to last through the first week in August.
Depending on where you go, many aspects of day-to-day life (eating, shopping, nightlife, transportation) are affected by the fasting — for example, driving can be particularly hazardous in the evenings as delirious, food-deprived workers all race home to enjoy their first meal of the day.
These changes can at first be disorienting to a non-Muslim traveler. However, rather than focus on the challenges, it is useful to see Ramadan as a way to experience another, more sensitive side of the culture you’re there to visit.
To help you better plan, here are five things to keep in mind while visiting the Middle East during Ramadan:
1. Throughout Ramadan, it is forbidden to eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public during the day. This can be problematic for non-Muslim travelers who wish to respect the holiday while not having to abstain from meals themselves. As a solution, many hotels and shopping centers provide screened-off areas where it is permissible to eat and drink without offending.
2. Private businesses and government offices tend to shorten their hours during Ramadan, but public transportation continues as normal (meaning you can still rely on airports, taxis and Metro services to get you where you need to go). Additionally, many restaurants and shopping malls will extend their hours at night to accommodate those who have spent the day fasting.
3. Tourist-y, cosmopolitan places like Dubai are more liberal when it comes to attire; however, Ramadan warrants extra care when choosing what to wear. (Sex is also forbidden during the day, so a suggestive outfit could cause more harm than intended.)
4. Once the sun sets, Muslims enjoy a light meal known as iftar, which can range from a snack of dried fruits to a full plate of food. Many hotels will set up Iftar tents so non-Muslim guests can participate in the experience as well: this is highly recommended, as it’s a great place to sample traditional Arabic cuisine with locals as they break their fast). A larger, more festive meal called suhoor is enjoyed by families later in the evening, around midnight.
5. Just as non-Muslim travelers should respect the rules and guidelines of Ramadan when abroad, Muslims too are expected to practice tolerance. A spokesperson at Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding explains: “To forgive and be kind is what Ramadan is all about. So long as a person’s actions are not blatantly in poor taste and done on purpose to spite the faith, there is no need for concern.”
Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims.
During this time, observant Muslims not only abstain from food, drinking and smoking from dawn to dusk, but in general practice restrain from all activities or behavior that are not compatible with Islamic values.
You should be aware that levels of observance of Ramadan will vary in different countries and cultures but most Muslims will conform to some extent with the requirements of the fast - that they fast between dawn and sunset.
This means they can’t eat, drink, smoke or even chew gum during daylight hours. Muslims use this time of abstention for prayer, contemplation and charitable work. Check our travel advice for more information on specific countries. You will also find information on website of the relevant British embassy.
Please note that the precise dates of observation will vary from country to country.
Travelling to Muslim countries
Non-Muslims should show respect to those who are fasting and pay attention so as not to offend Islamic values. If you demonstrate culturally insensitive behaviour that offends, you could be arrested. Non-Muslims should observe the rules of Ramadan in public and should note the following:
- Avoid eating, drinking, chewing gum or smoking in public during the daytime (including in your car) - many people will understand that you aren’t under the same obligation to fast but will appreciate your awareness. Pregnant, nursing women and young children are exempt from the provisions, but discretion should be exercised
- In some Muslim countries it’s actually illegal to eat and drink in daylight during Ramadan
- Some restaurants will close or operate amended opening hours during Ramadan
- Restaurants that cater to tourists may open as usual but hotels will sometimes use screens to keep western diners sectioned off from Islamic guests
- Take extra care about your clothing during the holy month. Ensure you dress modestly as standards may be policed even more carefully than usual
- Driving may be more erratic than usual, particularly during the later afternoon and early evening, be patient and show tolerance especially during this time
- Business hours may become shorter in the day
Loud music and dancing is considered disrespectful during Ramadan. Please do not play music or dance in public areas.
It’s not impossible to travel or do business in Islamic countries during Ramadan, but different rules do apply. Seek local advice on arrival either from your tour guide, hotel or business contacts.
Iftar – breaking the fast
Iftar is the time each day when the fast is broken and a meal is taken with family and friends. During Iftar there is additional pressure on taxis and other public transport so it’s a good idea to time your movements around avoiding having to travel at this time.
Eid – the end of the fast
As the end of Ramadan approaches there is normally a lot of activity as people traditionally visit families to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, the three-day festival marking the end of the fast. You should plan accordingly if you’re planning to travel at this time.
Fasters should exercise moderation in their eating and drinking habits between Iftar and Imsak, to make it easier for their bodies to adjust to both keeping and breaking the fast every day.”