"A few years ago when I was running a tour in Syria during Ramadan, I asked my group to fast for a day so they could truly understand how it feels. The whole group said it was an excellent experience and they really enjoyed being able to share in the atmosphere of a restaurant full of people breaking their fast." Yavuz Salataci - Destination Manager, Imaginative Traveller
Many travellers are wary of visiting a country during Ramadan, a special month of the year for more than one billion Muslims throughout the world when the faithful abstain from eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours. However, other than slight adjustments which should be made out of respect to the local people it should not affect your tour at all and is actually a special time of year to visit.
Travelling during Ramadan is a great experience and one that is well worth sharing in. If you are invited to participate in the breaking of a fast with a family you should take the opportunity; it is a real treat and a great honour for you and your host.
Ramadan is the month in which Allah sent the Koran to the prophet Mohammed. During Ramadan, the faithful abstain from sustenance, smoking and sexual relations between sunrise and sunset. Muslims think of it as a kind of tune-up for their spiritual lives and often become 'more holy' by visiting the mosque more regularly and reading as much of the Koran as possible. Islam has five main pillars which all Muslims should follow. These are:
The Testimony of Faith (Shahadah) - the declaration that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet.
Ritual Prayer (Salat) - The observance of the five daily Prayers.
The giving of alms (Zakat) - money or produce distributed among the poor.
Sawm - Fasting
The Hajj - the pilgramage to Mecca which all Muslims should do once in their lifetime.
As the fourth pillar, Muslims cannot fulfill their religion without experiencing fasting. Fasting teaches patience and is a way of experiencing hunger and feeling empathy for the less fortunate. Ramadan is a time for inner reflection, devotion to God, and self-control.
Ramadan always falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, but the actual start is based on a combination of physical sightings of the moon. In 2009 Ramadan is 21st August-19th September.
At the time of the sunset call to prayer Muslims break their fast with a small amount of food (e.g. some dates and fresh juice), go to pray, and then start the first main meal of the day which is called El Fetar (literally break fast). At night there is a festive atmosphere and the streets are crowded with people enjoying the break fast. As Ramadan places emphasis on the community and everyone eats at the same time, friends and family often get together for the evening meal and many people go out to coffee shops.
Many big hotels and sports clubs set up an oriental tent where shisha (tobacco smoked in a water pipe), food and drinks (but no alcohol – see below) are served all night. This is often accompanied by live music and traditional dancing. These parties and celebrations often go on until sunrise.You may see big tables in the streets and near the mosques with huge amounts of food served for El Fetar and El Sohour.
During Ramadan things will happen more slowly and less efficiently than usual. Sites may also close early or have different opening hours and train and bus timetables may be affected. During the breaking of the fast (El Fetar) after sunset each day, the country will grind to a halt. You should not ask for any service from the hotel staff at this time. Our Tour Leaders will be on hand to offer assistance if required.
Generally any meals which are included in our itineraries will be arranged for a time well after the break-fast (which usually lasts at least one hour). During Ramadan you will find that many cafés, restaurants, bazaars, shops and other services may be closed during the day or have limited opening hours. (Note: opening hours tend not to be affected as much in Turkey). None of the above points should be seen as a hindrance!
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