Observed by Muslims with a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad, Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar year. Seen as an opportunity to strengthen their relationship with Allah, all healthy adults abstain from eating, drinking, sex and smoking during daylight hours.
In some cases government offices and private businesses slow down during Ramadan and there may be shorter working hours, in part due to the tiredness and low blood sugar of their employees.
Each day the fast ends with iftar, the first meal taken after nightfall and meals and celebrations can continue long into the night.
Ramadan climaxes with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr (the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast), a three-day holiday filled with huge meals, the exchanging of gifts and visits with family and friends.
As a public observance of the fast is mandatory even for non-Muslims in some regions, if you are traveling to a Muslim country during Ramadan, it is important to be aware of what you can expect during this period and more importantly, what is expected of you.
While you may not be expected to abstain in less strict or multi-faith countries, it’s still wise to be discreet, as for example, those who are fasting may not wish to watch you eat your lunch.
Ramadan is strictly observed in Saudi Arabia, and a public observance of the fast is mandatory, with the mutawwa (religious police) patrolling the streets to enforce abstinence. While non-muslims are not expected to fast behind closed doors, they must do so in public and all eateries are closed during daylight hours, although some hotels may offer screened eating areas.
In the UAE everyone is expected to observe the fast in public, although it is common to find screened eating areas and the option of room service in most large hotels. The majority of nightclubs will be closed, live music is prohibited and it is important you do not sing, dance or appear to be intoxicated in public at any time of the day or night. Iftars take place after dark, but it is wise to make dinner reservations, as restaurants will generally be busy with families breaking the fast together.
Non-Muslims must refrain from eating, drinking and smoking in public in Oman during Ramadan. While some large hotels may offer food in screened dining areas, cafes, restaurants and bars are shut during daylight hours and very few shops open.
In Egypt non-Muslim visitors are permitted to eat, drink and smoke, although it is polite to do so away from those who are fasting. Traditionally alcohol is not sold during Ramadan (although some restaurants may serve it once the evening meal has concluded) and government offices generally close at 2pm for the duration. Expect busy scenes after nightfall, with many locals heading out for Iftar feasts.
Again non-Muslims are not expected to fast and in some larger cities and coastal resorts limited restaurants and shops may be open for them to visit. Ramadan can be a great time to visit Istanbul, where there is a lively atmosphere each evening and crowds gather in Sultanahmet Square for Iftar.
In Jordan, Ramadan is enforced by both religious and civil law and should be publicly observed by all, although some hotels will serve daytime food to non-Muslims. Eateries are closed until sunset, shops have reduced opening hours and it is illegal for any business to sell alcohol throughout the month.