This year, the Islamic month of Ramadan falls between May 27 and June 24. During this period, which is of the utmost sanctity to practitioners of Islam, day-to-day practices change drastically in majority-Muslim nations and any cities or towns with a considerable Muslim presence. Those traveling to any such destinations between the aforementioned dates should learn the specifics of these changes and know what to expect to see. While non-Muslims are not expected to directly participate in this religious observation, it's common courtesy to be respectful of the customs involved.
Ramadan effects on commerce
As explained by Lonely Planet, Ramadan is a fast: Practicing Muslims don't eat or drink - not even water - from sunrise to sunset, and also abstain from sex and other vices. This time is devoted to prayer, reflection and zakat - acts of charity and kindness. Come sundown, there are large feasts and a notable level of revelry continuing late into the night. Many businesses close during the fast, and those remaining open have truncated hours. This includes most restaurants, though some are open all day for non-Muslim visitors, and international franchise hotels will keep their eateries available. Plan for this eventuality and pack a meal or some snacks. Finally, government services also operate on a limited basis.
The degree to which Ramadan's guidelines are enforced varies by country. According to Wanderlust magazine, some only expect Muslims to publicly fast, while others demand it of all - except small children, as the Chicago Tribune notes. In the latter instances, non-Muslims can still eat at that time but only in their hotel rooms, private residences or screened-off dining areas. Nations like Malaysia, Morocco, Egypt and Turkey are lenient and enforce little to no restrictions on the activities of non-Muslims, while Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates are extremely strict.
Respect is the key
Even in countries where non-Muslims can eat, drink or smoke during the day, doing so in full public view is considered insulting. Finding a secluded area or going indoors won't be much trouble. Being respectful also extends to taking part in the post-sundown festivities. This, fortunately, isn't difficult at all. Many Muslims offer refreshments as gifts to passersby, and some invite visitors to their personal feasts. Accept (or respectfully decline) any such invitation as a sign of goodwill, and consider engaging in charitable endeavors if you're in a position to do so.
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