Ramadan is celebrated during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During this month, which is considered a time of contemplation and purification, Muslims must spend the hours of daylight fasting.
Spending Ramadan in the Middle East can be a wonderful experience, but visitors are advised to be well prepared in advance so they know fully what to expect. During the month of Ramadan, shops tend to be shut during the daytime, evenings are noisy and the call to prayer is frequent. On top of that, transport services may be disrupted. Travellers to the region should also be extra-sensitive to their Muslim hosts and refrain from eating or smoking in public during daylight hours, or from drinking alcohol.
However, Ramadan needn’t be a hindrance to your travel plans, especially if you’re planning on visiting one of the more moderate Islamic countries. In fact, this can be a fascinating time to travel to the region, with lively celebrations going on most evenings and a carnival-type atmosphere prevailing. The end of Ramadan is marked by the festival of Eid ul-Fitr and this is definitely worth experiencing, whether Muslim or not.
Here are some suggestions for the best spots in the Middle East to spend the month of Ramadan:
Family-friendly Jordan hosts the Jordan Festival throughout the summer months. This cultural and arts festival showcases performances from famous singers, dancers and traditional musicians, and draws visitors from all over the region. Being a more liberal country than others, most of the hotels and restaurants in Jordan still serve tourists during Ramadan.
Egypt’s myriad attractions remain just as compelling, if not more so, during the month of Ramadan. Cairo is one of the most captivating capitals on earth, known for its many jaw-dropping archaeological wonders – from the Pyramids to its famed thousand mosques. During Ramadan, Cairo really turns on the charm, with nightly events and concerts held in the glorious surroundings of ancient palaces and amphitheatres.
The most holy city for Muslims, Mecca, is situated in Saudi Arabia. While non-Muslim visitors will struggle to get a visa to the country and may find its laws (particularly regarding women) a deterrent to visiting, Muslims consider a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives to be an essential requirement, and there’s no more special time than during the month of Ramadan.
After the sun goes down, the city of Istanbul comes alive, with everyone piling onto the streets to join in the feasting and revelry. Mosques are lit up, streets are draped with colourful strings of lights and street stalls offer an enticing array of food. The music and drumming carries on throughout the night, so if you’re a night owl who likes to stroll the streets under cover of dark, this is the place to be during the holy month.