Every Ramadan, Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset. Waking before dawn to eat suhoor, people then refrain from eating or drinking anything – a period of fasting known as imsak. When the sun goes down, friends and family gather to break fast together, over a meal known as iftar.
For travellers, things can be a little different. In non-Muslim countries, people continue to eat and drink throughout the day during Ramadan, and finding halal food in a place that is convenient when it is time to break fast can prove challenging. And for anyone travelling on a plane, it can be puzzling to know when you are supposed to break fast or stop eating – do you do so when the sun sets in Dubai or wait until it goes down in the place that you’re flying over?
For Rashid Al Tamimi, senior presenter at Sheikh Mohammed Cultural Centre for Understanding in Dubai, these questions are easily answered. “Today, it’s easy,” says the Emirati. “It’s not like in my grandfather’s day. Back then, people used to travel by camel and even going short distances was considered a huge journey. Going from Dubai to Abu Dhabi took three to four days, so imagine how prepared everyone had to be if they were fasting and travelling.”
“Nowadays, as travellers, it is easy. Religion is not a burden,” explains Tamimi. “When it comes to fasting as a traveller, you just have to do a little pre-planning.
“You should be prepared, so bring a few dates with you when you go somewhere new and pack a small bottle for water, just so that you have something to break your fast with no matter where you are.”
Up in the air
If you are travelling by plane, most airlines in the Gulf will take the planning work out of your journey. As well as providing in-flight iftars, many flights have on-screen tools that travellers can use to find prayer times in various places around the world. Some airlines also provide Ramadan-themed television programmes, music stations and audio entertainment.
“On Emirates, there’s also a space for worshipping,” says Tamimi. “The airline started this last year and it’s happening again, across all cabin classes. But even if you’re on a plane that doesn’t have this space, wherever you are, you can always worship from your heart and your head.”
Travellers should follow the rules and timings of whichever country they are travelling towards, Tamimi says. “Let’s say we begin the day fasting in Dubai but we’re flying out to Singapore, which is four hours ahead of the UAE. That means I will likely be fasting four hours less, because of when the Singapore sunset timing is. You should follow sunrise and sunset in whatever country you are in. And if you’re still in flight when it’s time to break fast, the captain or crew will inform passengers that it’s time.
Make use of technology
“Thanks to the technology we have these days, it’s easy to travel in Ramadan, even to non-Muslim countries. People can use apps to help them find halal food, to establish prayer times in the country they are in and even to find the location of the nearest mosque.”
Travellers can also take a leaf out of Tamimi's book and download an app with passages from the Holy Quran loaded on to it. This way, when you have some downtime, you have something appropriate to read or listen to. And when it's prayer time, apps can help travellers locate the nearest mosque. "If there is a mosque in the area, then that's better, especially for men. However, if there is no mosque nearby, you can use an app to find the direction of the Qibla and pray anywhere you are."
Eating the right food
Very often, people break their fast by eating dates. As well as being the traditional manner in which the Prophet Mohammed first broke his fast, dates are also a great choice when it comes to nutrition. “They are packed with minerals and proteins, and are good for you, even if you are not fasting.”
When it comes to finding halal food, Tamimi has plenty of advice. “All seafood is halal, so you can always find something to eat. Even if you are not sure if a restaurant or cafe in a new destination is halal, you can simply opt to avoid the beef or the lamb and have a seafood or vegetarian dish.”
Do you need to fast?
While fasting today does not need to be a burden, there are still instances when people might opt not to fast. "Our religion tells us if you're pregnant, if you are on your period, if you're an elderly person or a young child, if you're on medication, then you don't need to fast. Travellers also don't have to fast; they can always opt to make it up later on."
If fasting is not going to be feasible for you during a trip, then you can alternatively plan to make up the days that you missed upon your return, or any other suitable time in the future. You can also pay for someone less fortunate to break their fast. “This is all written in the Quran,” concludes the presenter. “All the rules are given there.”
Five helpful apps to use in Ramadan
Millions of Muslims recognise Muslim Pro as the most accurate prayer time and athan app. It also features the full Quran with Arabic scripts, phonetics, translations and audio recitations, as well as a Qibla locator, an Islamic Hijri calendar, and a map of mosques and halal restaurants.
Search by city to find out the exact local timings for prayers on this free, all-in-one app, available on the App store. It has multiple features, including prayer times with an athan feature, a Qibla compass with calculated distance and a Hijri date converter.
If you cannot fast when you travel, use this app to help you record your charitable donations. You can also use it to track your daily spiritual efforts such as prayers and Quran reading, as well as any fasting that you do.
This is a great app for travellers as it helps you to locate mosques near you. It also indicates the prayer timings and the Qibla direction wherever you are in the world. The app uses your location services to bring you accurate information.
This reading app is great for making use of flight time to read the Holy Quran. As well as keeping track of what you have read, you can set a daily reminder so that you are prompted to read enough to finish the texts by the end of the holy month.