رمضان كريم

Ramadan kareem!
Stories of devotion from around the globe

I've spent five years living in the Middle East (based predominantly out of Cairo but also doing lengthy stints in Turkey and Morocco), and so non-Muslim travellers often ask me if Ramadan is a good time to visit the Islamic world. From my own experience, I can say with some confidence that the answer to that question is... maybe.

As you will see from the stories in this feature, there are lots of people having some of the most treasured and wonderful travel experiences while travelling during Ramadan — but what is required to make the most of this time is a little bit of compromise.

Ramadan is a time of holy devotion for Muslims, most notably through fasting. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, the obligations of every Muslim according to their faith. From the time the sun creeps into the day through to the last ray of light, nothing should pass their lips. No food, no water, no cigarettes. Nothing. This is a time to make a sacrifice in yourself and a time to contemplate your existence in the world and how you might be able to make that existence more meaningful for your community, your family, and the world.

When the sun goes down, it is a time to be with your family and to celebrate. If you can afford it, you give a little of what you have to those who do not have enough for themselves, to ensure no one is missing out. It is a time when the grand traditions of hospitality shine their brightest in these parts of the world. Many of the experiences you will read below reflect on the incredibleness of this interaction with strangers. This is a wonderful time to make human connections. It was certainly the time when I had some of my best interactions.

To reach that reward, however, there are some things you need to prepare for as a traveller. If having a drink (alcohol) every evening is a mandatory part of your travel experience, then this is not the time or place for you (although like in everything, there are some exceptions to the rule). Respect for your surroundings means you should go out of your way to be discreet when eating or drinking during daylight hours. Most restaurants will be closed and your choices will be limited. When the sun goes down, most places will be booked up. You can’t be in a hurry to get anywhere in the hours leading up to sunset as everyone is trying to get home. Service can be a bit lethargic, people are tired and hungry, and ‘the sites’ close hours earlier than during the rest of the year.

So, should you travel during Ramadan at all? I say the stories below show that this is, absolutely, a magnificent time to travel if you like genuine interactions with locals — so long as you have an open mind, are ready to compromise a bit, and have some empathy for your fellow human beings.

If you are travelling during Ramadan, we've got a special pop-up tour that offers a local look at celebrations happening in Kuala Lumpur. Explore the night bazaars, learn about local Ramadan traditions, and dig into a feast after sunset alongside new friends.

- Tony Carne, General Manager, Urban Adventures

Words by Margherita Burns | Photos by Nicholas Burns
thecrowdedplanet.com

Come in, come in! A young lady called us from her doorstep. I didn’t understand her language, but I could see her hands, pointing towards the gate, furling and unfurling with the international gesture for ‘Come in, join us, you’re welcome here.’

We had been warned not to linger outdoors after dark in Diyarbakir. The unofficial capital of Turkish Kurdistan had a seedy reputation, and our Couchsurfing host had invited us to have dinner with his friends.

Yet, sunset had caught us unaware. The historic centre of Diyarbakir is a maze of backstreets, a medina where the sun barely shines and there’s something to see and do behind every corner: a Syriac Orthodox church with slate-grey walls and a bearded priest who spoke Aramaic, Jesus’s language; the Great Mosque, its interiors under renovation, with a dozen old men sitting outside on wicker chairs, rosary beads in-hand.

It was Ramadan. Sunset meant iftar, the breaking of the fast. Before getting to Turkey, I didn’t know that the month of Ramadan falls at different times each year — and that this year, it was approximately the whole of August. Muslims are to abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset for the whole of Ramadan — a feat when the sun rises at 4am and sets at 8:30pm, and the temperature outside touches 40° Celsius.

We had entered Turkey at the exact moment Ramadan began. We were travelling by train from Sofia to Istanbul and our train stopped for border controls at sunrise of the first day of Ramadan. I turned in my bunk, comforted by the call to prayer floating through my window and the scent of thyme filling the dusty compartment.

In Istanbul and Cappadocia, you could barely tell it was Ramadan. The bars were full of locals and tourists, and food and drinks were served all day long. But once we got to Eastern Turkey, the atmosphere changed completely. In Urfa, a holy city for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and the legendary birthplace of Abraham, we met perhaps only a dozen tourists during the whole of our stay. The streets were deserted during the day, and the few shopkeepers who kept their stores open sat half asleep in the shade or under creaking ceiling fans. I couldn’t imagine what they were going through, and how the extent of their faith helped them withstand 14 boiling hours without food and water. We went through three two-litre bottles of water a day, making sure we ate and drank out of the sight of locals. The sun shone without respite, burning our skin and making any kind of physical activity impossible, especially in the early afternoon.

Just before sunset, locals left their homes and walked to the parks, baskets laden with all kinds of goodies. Everything was laid out carefully on picnic blankets and when the last rays of sun disappeared behind the mountains, and the call to prayer filled the street from the mosque loudspeaker, the feast began.

Hennaed fingers, thick callused hands, children’s hands of all shapes and sizes picked up dates, pieces of fruit, olives, morsels of bread. Then came manti, Turkish ravioli in garlicky sauce, dolmades still hot and steamy, vine leaf rolls with rice and big meaty chunks, çorba (soups) of all kinds, transported in stainless-steel thermoses.

We spent three nights in Urfa and for every single iftar we were invited to join a family. We ate stuffed zucchini with refugees from nearby Syria, only a few kilometres away beyond the mountains, lucky enough to have escaped in the early days of the war. We shared freshly baked bread with a Kurdish family and salads with a Turkish one.

As we moved eastwards from Urfa, iftar became the highlight of our day. In Kars, our Couchsurfing host invited us to join him at his auntie’s home. She started laughing the moment I entered the room, and stopped when I left. ‘You are so skinny! How can you ever become a mother?’ She lifted her hefty frame from the divan to pick up yet another fried pastry.

In Trabzon, we ate through the night with a group of local students, first juicy kebabs with squeezed lemon juice, then salads with tangy pomegranate and assorted dips from an all-you-can-eat buffet — and I mustered my courage to try çig kofte, raw meatballs made with bulgur wheat, beef, and various spices. When we tried to pay, the cashier refused to take our cash. You are guests in our country, he said.

Yet, up until Diyarbakir, we had never been invited to enter a private home out of the blue. The young woman kept motioning towards the gate, inviting us in. We hesitated, biding time, pretending to take pictures. She wore a paisley shirt and a Kurdish headscarf, and had a string of pearls around her neck. I spied from the corner of my eye, saw a crib in a corner of her front garden and heard the coos of a baby. Let’s go in, I thought.

It was one of those nights that I’ll keep in my heart forever. The family seemed genuinely happy to have us for dinner, and busied back and forth to make us comfortable. They pulled up two chairs and fed us until we burst: dates, lentil soup, lamb stew on rice, sticky honeyed sweets, even pink ice cream.

Sadly, we couldn’t communicate. We had no language in common, and no Google Translate with us. It was an evening of shared glances, laughs, gestures of hospitality. An evening of gratitude — their gratitude towards us, for having accepted their gift, and our gratitude towards them, for having opened their house and hearts to us, two scruffy backpackers wandering the streets of Diyarbakir after sunset.

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Experience life in Turkey and mingle with locals on an Urban Adventures tour in Istanbul or Cappadocia.

"Food is everything"

By Farah Tan, Kuala Lumpur Urban Adventures

The month of Ramadan (or Ramadhan) is a very testing period. You fast from dawn to dusk, and it’s a time where you really sacrifice yourself — you feel what hunger is like, what thirst is like. It’s reminding you that there are lots of people around the world who are hungry, who have no food to eat, and that this is how they feel.

And you don’t get much sleep, either, because you have to get up early for sahur, the last meal before you start fasting for the day. Imsyak (the starting of the fast) can be as early as 6am — it depends on the calendar that year. You have to wake up as early as 3am to 4am, to cook or to heat up food for the family to eat and drink before the fast begins. Then all day, you don’t eat, you don’t drink. It’s quite tiring. Then, after you break your fast, you go for prayers, and your prayers can last from 8pm to 10:30pm.

The breaking of fast is called berbuka puasa in Malaysia, and in Kuala Lumpur, the mosques around the city will have their own berbuka puasa spreads. They’ll normally have something simple, like a sweet drink, and maybe some dates and kuih, our local cakes. You eat something light first, then after that you perform your Maghrib prayers, followed by a heavier meal before going for your Isyak and Terawih prayers, the special prayer for the whole month of Ramadan that brings you good blessings.

The thing is, during Ramadan you’re supposed to just eat a regular dinner. You’re not encouraged to waste money or to eat excessively — but for us Malaysians, food is everything and we tend to spoil ourselves! Everything is lavish. All the hotels put on Ramadan buffets and all the restaurants will be fully booked, and there will be crowds at gerai gerai, our local street food stalls. And when you go to Pasar Ramadhan (the street food bazaar), you want to buy everything because you’re so hungry. It’s usually 4pm or 5pm when most Muslims go to the bazaar — but the breaking of fast isn’t until 7pm or 7:30pm. So you can imagine: you’re walking through the food bazaar, still not breaking fast, and you’re very hungry and you see the variety of foods. You just want to buy everything! You’re so tempted.

This is the most popular time of year for both Muslims and non-Muslims to try traditional Malay cooking. We call it kampung cooking. It’s what’s eaten in the villages, but often not by city folks. It’s quite tedious to prepare, as you need to get the right traditional ingredients — but at Ramadan, you’ll find everyone cooking this style of cuisine and selling it at the food bazaar. This is really the only chance that you get to eat it in the cities. Everyone tries to come up with really tantalising food, and tries to include dishes from the different regions of Malaysia. There are traditional salads called ulam and dips made from chilies, tamarind juice, and shrimp paste. There’s one called sambal tempoyak, made with fermented durian. There’s also assorted kerabu, raw vegetables seasoned with lime juice, tamarind juice, chilies, and toasted grated coconut. And then there’s kuih, traditional local cakes. We do have the regular kuih that we eat daily, but during Ramadan, some of the vendors will serve more traditional recipes, the recipes that were passed down from their grandmothers. There’s a very good style of roast chicken, called ayam golek, that’s quite famous during the month of Ramadan. Some people will also serve Malaysian Chinese-style cooking, with dishes like yong tau fu (stuffed tofu), pau (steamed buns), and even roast duck. Even Malaysian Indian spreads are featured — treats like roti canai, murtabak (stuffed pancake or fried bread), vade (savoury fried snacks), and muruku (deep-fried crunchy snacks) are commonly on sale too.

During the month of Ramadan, you try to be very humble, be cautious about what you say, and be patient — and your patience is tested because, as you can imagine, you’re very hungry and thirsty! It’s a time to be more understanding, to have more goodwill towards others. You pray together, you break fast together.

To mark the end of Ramadan, we celebrate the biggest Muslim festival in Malaysia, Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, which falls on the first day of the month of Syawal in the Muslim calendar. And you don new clothes and you ask for forgiveness from everyone. I find this is such a beautiful thing to do. The younger ones pay respect to the older ones and ask for forgiveness for anything they have done wrong over the past year. The children will start with their parents, and then with their grandparents, and then the spouses, the wife to the husband. And generally, Muslims will greet each other by asking for forgiveness. They will ask for forgiveness for their wrong-doings: Maaf zahir batin. 'I seek forgiveness from you.'

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Join our Tastes of Ramadan tour to experience how locals in Kuala Lumpur celebrate after sunset.

Having grown up in the “bush,” I honestly don’t think I knew what Ramadan was until I was in my early 20s. What did I know about Islam while growing up in rural Australia? Indeed, the only thing multicultural about my hometown back then was the local Chinese restaurant.

I first met Ramadan, or Ramazan, when travelling on my rite of passage, my quintessential “year on the continent.” Like every good Aussie at that time, my mates and I got ourselves a camper van in London and off we went across Europe. After a party one night in Spain (you really can have a dance party in a Mr. Whippy van) the idea of Morocco came up. It was, of course, just across the water.

After being assured by our Spanish hosts that the van would be alright, we grabbed a small bag and took the ferry to Tangier. Back then, some 20 years ago, four young Aussie girls in Tangier brought the odd look or two from locals. But we had also arrived during Ramadan and, well, that took it to the next level. We didn’t even know it was Ramadan until we wanted some lunch.

I recall being served the most magnificent tagine for lunch after some very nice Moroccan gentleman opened his restaurant for us — it wouldn’t be until many years later that I realised just how inappropriate we were to expect lunch.

Taking the train to Marrakech (which we never actually got to), we met some young men and women and disembarked in their village. There I would experience my first iftar. I still recall the anticipation of the breaking of the fast, the call to prayer, and the smells of the delicious food. But most of all, I recall the hospitality of this village as they welcomed us to join their feast.

Years later I would return to the Middle East and experience a Ramadan in Egypt, where I swear in the seconds before iftar is the only time I have ever not heard a honking horn in Cairo. In Syria, I joined the faithful in the narrow alleyways in front of the Umayyad Mosque, with fresh dates as the call to prayer announced the end of the day-long cleanse. And now, living in Turkey, Ramadan is like an old friend; I look forward to greeting it every year.

For me, Ramadan is a time to reflect, a time to be thankful for all that this life has given me, and a time to join in the celebration of sharing with others.

Every year, tents pop up overnight, stocked with lentil soup, thick pide bread, and, of course, gullac — dessert made with layers of pastry and milk and always served at Ramadan. These ifta cadiri (food tents) provide complimentary food for the breaking of the long fast — as well as an opportunity to make new friends.

The ancient hippodrome of Sultanahmet turns into a block party and is definitely the place to be in Istanbul; the square plays host to a very different kind of riot from the Nika Riots of Constantinople. During Ramadan, this is an arena of post-fasting entertainment until the wee hours of the morning. The square is filled with families and groups of friends. Even "loners" do not seem alone on Ramadan nights in Sultanahmet.

The endless list of Turkish traditional and junk food includes cotton candy, popcorn, grilled corn on the cob, gözleme (flat bread filled with cheese, sausage, and potatoes), döner, künefe, baklava, lokma (a type of fried doughnut with syrup), and ice cream, and is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

Then, after a long night of celebrating and a bit of sleep, there is always the Ramadan davulcusu (drummers) to wake you for sahur before the sun rises and the fast begins again.

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Come see the city sites with a local by your side on an Istanbul Urban Adventure.

"Prayers in the streets"

By Katya Kiseleva, Moscow Urban Adventures

Russia doesn’t typically come to mind when you think of Islam, or honouring Ramadan. But in certain territorial entities of the Federation, the majority of the population follows Islam. In Ingushetia, 98% of the population is Muslim; in Chechnya, it’s 96%; in Dagestan, 94%; in Kabardino-Balkaria, 70%; and in Karachay-Cherkessia, Bashkortostan, and Tatarstan, 54%.

In Moscow, the Muslim community is rapidly growing, with some two million Muslims living there — making it the biggest Muslim city in Russia. And the scale of celebrating Ramadan in Moscow is truly tremendous.

There are only four mosques in the capital, and it’s a challenge to accommodate the growing population. At the biggest mosque, near the metro station Prospekt Mira, Ramadan becomes quite a scene. It typically attracts the most people, but due to a lack of space inside, every Friday during Ramadan, the streets around the mosque end up filled with people praying, some of them using whatever they can find outside — newspapers, plastic bags — to use as a rug, while the police block off traffic.

It’s so crowded that you wouldn’t be able to walk down the street without stepping over someone as they pray.

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Find out more about local life in Russia on one of our Moscow city tours.

Words and photos by Martina Clark

I was so hungry, but I was determined to persevere.

It was the first days of Ramadan and I was working in Iran for a few weeks. The timing didn’t seem ideal, but when a trip to Iran comes up, one does not refuse. At the time, I was a staff trainer for the United Nations and the best part of my job was working with local colleagues in each given country. I found it imperative to respect their culture, so of my own volition, I decided to observe Ramadan, which meant that I would not eat from sunrise to sunset.

“Martina, you staying in the conference room?” my colleague asked.

“Yes, I thought I’d organise my papers during the break,” I said.

“Aren’t you hungry?”

“I’m fine.”

“Okay, if you need us, we’re next door.”

I wondered what they were doing because I knew “next door” was the lunchroom. I imagined them all praying or perhaps just resting.

My Iranian colleague smiled and left me to my thoughts. Although I had a whopper of a headache, I made it through. It was autumn so the days weren’t too long and by the time I got back to my lodgings — with a Spanish friend who was based there — I felt guilt-free when I ate enough for three.

On the second day of my training, when I told them I’d skip lunch again, my colleagues smiled and told me where they’d be if I needed anything. A half-hour into the break, I did need something, probably a stapler or a photocopy. I went next door to ask for assistance, quietly opening the heavy door so I wouldn’t disturb them too much.

To my surprise, everyone was chatting and, well, eating. Eating lunch, just as they did every other day at work. Before I could refuse, I was sitting at a table with a group of amused colleagues and a plate of food in front of me. It was quickly explained that while they appreciated the gesture, there was absolutely no reason for me to fast: (1) I am not Muslim and would never — at least in Iran — be expected to fast; and (2) I was travelling and anyone who is far from home is exempt from fasting. Not only that, but many of them were non-practicing and did not fast on workdays, if at all.

What really struck me, though, was how gracious they were in allowing me to try. Persians are known for their hospitality and this held true — not only in Tehran, but as I travelled throughout the rest of Iran.

I’d had friends from Iran even in elementary school — families who’d fled the unrest that preceded the 1979 revolution — and had always wanted to visit. Like many, I suspect, I had more recently fallen into the trap of believing our media when I read that Iran had become a difficult, unpleasant place to visit. I could not have been more wrong.

I’d arrived just a few days before Ramadan and my first afternoon and evening were a whirlwind tour: a sort of Tehran 101. After a few hours of work, my first stop was a teahouse, which felt like a treehouse, up on a hillside where we did indeed drink tea and also smoked a hookah. Sitting on benches covered with thick carpets, we could see the lush green still lingering from summer with the sharp mountains in the background.

Next up were cocktails, then an outdoor concert of Iran’s second most popular singer, Shahram Nazeri. He was referred to this way out of respect for a much older singer who rarely performed but was considered a national treasure. Persian traditions run deep.

The music was glorious but I was equally intrigued by the staid behaviour of the audience, which easily topped 5,000. Couples didn’t touch, and everyone looked only at the stage and applauded on cue. It was later pointed out that police watched the audience and no emotional outbursts were allowed in public. Iranian law runs deep.

After, we attended the engagement party of a couple I’d never met. It was a garden affair with women in strapless gowns, dancing, and drinks. Nothing seemed to fit the assumptions I’d had about Iran. Headscarves were left at the door. Self-will runs deeper.

Only 24 hours in and my preconceived notions of the Islamic Republic of Iran were rapidly being dismantled.

What I did find was that it was nearly impossible to be alone. Friends escorted me around Tehran, and friends of friends appeared to escort me during visits to Isfahan and Shiraz. The friend of a cousin of a friend guided me through Persepolis, where even during our hours in the hot sun visiting the ruins, she refused water or food. I found that Iranians were more observant of Ramadan outside of Tehran.

On my last day, back in Tehran, I was invited to iftar, an evening celebration. We ate a myriad of dishes — with pomegranate sauce, and aromatic stews and marinated lamb — and we danced to traditional music as well as to Shakira and Beyoncé. In this gathering of mostly women, with a few young boys, I felt completely welcomed as a sister. Persian hospitality trumps all in Iran.

Unlike my first day of work, on my last evening in Tehran, I certainly did not go hungry. My palate — and my soul — were sated. I feel so fortunate to have travelled to places like Iran where what I felt, most of all, was welcomed.

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Inspired to see Iran? We can show you the local side of life on one of our Tehran city tours.

"A harmony of religions"

By Candha Adwitiyo, Jakarta Urban Adventures

Istiqlal Mosque is the biggest mosque in Southeast Asia — appropriate since Indonesia also holds the largest Muslim population of any country in the world! Yet, even more interesting than its size (it can accommodate more than 120,000 people) is its location: side-by-side with the Jakarta Cathedral. There is harmony and tolerance between Christian and Muslim faiths in Jakarta and throughout the country — a movement that was pushed by President Sukarno, who wanted to promote respect for all religious beliefs in Indonesia.

On the first day of fasting during Ramadan, it's important to break fast with your family. Right after work, the streets are crowded as Muslims rush home for this important family time and for Maghrib, the prayer right after sunset. There's a lot of street food, particularly stalls selling sweets, which are needed to help you get your energy back. We call these treats ta'jil, and they range from sweet drinks to traditional cakes to fruit. Some popular treats are kolak pisang (coconut milk and bananas), selendang mayang (flour, pandan leaves, jackfruit, and sugar), bubur kacang hijau (mung beans porridge with coconut milk and sugar), pukis (cake made from coconut milk), martabak manis (pancakes stuffed with chocolate, cheese, or fruit), pisang goreng (deep-fried bananas), and qurma (dates). Every mosque will serve ta'jil for free in the evenings when it's time to break fast — typically tea and sponge cake.

We fast for 30 days, and during the last 10 days, the mosques are open 24 hours a day for prayers. Many devout Muslims choose to stay in the mosque for those 10 days, praying and reading the Quran.

After Ramadan, we celebrate Eid al-Fitr with our families, and many Jakartans head back to their hometowns outside the city. It's a quiet time in Jakarta. Train tickets sell out two months before Eid, and we drop from a city of 13 million to only about 5 million during that time. There's no congestion in the streets, as millions of people go home to honour the end of Ramadan with their loved ones.

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Find out more about local life in Indonesia on one of our Jakarta city tours.

By Sudeshna Ghosh

Having spent over 10 years in Dubai, I can say I’m a veteran at navigating Ramadan. It’s unlike anything else. For one, there’s a festive vibe in the air — most offices offer shorter working hours (even for those who are non-Muslim and not fasting), many people are away over this period, and business sort of slows down. But the quieter pace lends the city a unique charm.

And for a month that is essentially dedicated to fasting and spirituality… well, Ramadan seems to revolve around food quite a bit! The sunrise to sunset fast is ended with an iftar feast, which typically starts with dates and water, followed by a filling meal of multiple courses that then drifts into shisha, board games, and gossip to make for long, lingering evenings. The shared meals and sense of conviviality foster a true sense of community amongst everyone.

For expats such as me, the Ramadan experience is best summed up in two words: iftar buffet! Most, if not all, hotels lay out a lavish buffet spread of specialties from around the Arab region. From mezze items such as hummus and kibbeh (fried mincemeat croquettes), to lamb ouzi (a traditional Emirati dish of rice and meat slow-cooked together), and the classic bread and butter pudding-style dessert umm ali, visitors can sample traditional dishes that we may never otherwise taste.

Something I look forward to quite a lot are the iftar tents — many hotels pitch up large air-conditioned tents decorated with Arabic lanterns and other traditional motifs, where said buffets are served up amidst strains of traditional Oud music being played live. The atmosphere is magical.

Even restaurants that don’t offer Arabic cuisine trot out some sort of Ramadan offering, whether it’s a prix-fixe menu or giving an Arabian twist to some of their international dishes — yes, that includes French, Chinese, and Japanese restaurants!

But most importantly, this is one time of the year when this otherwise modern, cosmopolitan, expat-filled city takes on a distinctly Arabesque feel. There are also many charity initiatives undertaken during Ramadan, allowing everyone to get involved in giving back.

Add to it the fact that no one is allowed to eat or drink in public during this time, and that everyone generally tends to be a bit more covered up than usual, and I find Ramadan enforces a sort of empathy that I’ve come to quite enjoy. I even know people who aren’t required to fast but who voluntarily take it on themselves to try.

Far removed from the glittering, shopping-fuelled, partying lifestyle the city is known for, Ramadan allows for a different side of Dubai to be revealed from under its veil, even if only for a few weeks in the year.

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Learn about local life in the UAE on our brand-new Dubai city tours.

By Judit Kiss, Dubai Urban Adventures

If you’re travelling to a Muslim destination during Ramadan, here are some of the basics you should know about this holy time of year.

What is Ramadan? Ramadan is the holy month of the Islamic calendar, when all Muslims dedicate themselves to religious thoughts. It’s also a time for the whole community to get together, and to be more charitable. In Dubai, for example, traditionally Emirati families would welcome in less wealthy family members and share their food with them — but today, that charitable aspect spreads to the wider community.

How does fasting work? The fast starts at sunrise and finishes at sunset. Fasting (sawm — one of the five pillars of Islam) is a very important part of the holy month, although it is only one piece of the whole process of cleansing your mind and spirit. You should also refrain from drinking alcohol (although typically, practicing Muslims do not drink alcohol at all), sexual activity, swearing, and harmful thoughts.

When is Ramadan? The dates change annually because they are determined by the new moon. The holy month lasts for about 30 days.

What are iftar and sahur? Iftar is the meal after sunset to break the fast. During Ramadan, the tradition is for the whole family (yes, even the extended family — it can be a huge gathering!) to get together and share their meal. It’s often a big feast that starts with dates, and then involves eating for hours. Sahur (also suhoor or sehriis) is the meal before sunrise.

How should I greet locals? Ramadan kareem means “Happy or generous Ramadan,” Ramadan mubarak means “Blessed Ramadan,” and Iftar shahy means “Have a good iftar.”

Here are some other basic tips to ensure you remain respectful of the celebration, while also getting the most out of the experience.

Respect the local culture.

This applies to not only dressing conservatively, but also by not eating or drinking in public. Some destinations, such as Dubai, have designated areas for tourists to eat and drink.

Avoid driving or travelling around town just before sunset.

In many cities, the streets get quite crowded and there’s crushing traffic as people rush to iftar at home or in the local bazaars.

Be charitable.

This is the time of year for charity. Consider donating clothes, or joining a local group to help cook an iftar meal for those in need.

Check the local schedules.

Offices and shops may have limited hours to accommodate Ramadan, as workers need to pray and attend iftar at sunset.

Get involved in the iftar experience.

This is the best time of year to try traditional cuisine, whether it’s Emirati food in Dubai or kampung cooking in Malaysia. Around the world, so many restaurants offer iftar, or a special menu for Ramadan, making it easy to join in the celebration (just be sure to book early!). It is the best experience to share your meal with others while you hear local stories and learn more about the religion of Islam.

If you're not sure how to join an iftar and will be in Indonesia during Ramadan, we can help! Urban Adventures has a pop-up tour in Kuala Lumpur that treats you to a traditional iftar once the sun goes down.

Ramadan kareem!