Author and journalist Steve Dew-Jones has travelled through the Middle East during the month-long festival. Here he gives you tips on how to travel during Ramadan
The first thing you’ll notice when travelling through Muslim countries during Ramadan is that food is scarce. This may sound obvious, but the reality is that most shops will be shut between sunrise and sunset – restaurants too – and, as practising Muslims will testify, that’s quite a long time to go without food. This is especially true if you aren’t intending to take part in the fast yourselves because at least intentional fasters will have had the privilege of a pre-sunrise feast before the fast, during which they'll have attempted to take on enough food and water to keep them going until the sun sets.
If you're not partaking in the fast, it should be considered common courtesy to avoid public displays of eating or drinking. There are sometimes strict rules in Muslim countries to this effect (although these tend to be relaxed for foreigners). I remember spending many a lunchtime in Iran hidden away behind closed blinds and scoffing the very same mundane dish of fried chicken, gherkins, flat breads and non-alcoholic beer; kindly brought to us by the host’s servant and presumably purchased with a degree of difficulty and considerable discretion.
In many nominally Muslim countries, you will find a great deal of precisely that: nominal Islam. By this, I mean that, in a similar way to Britain being a nominally Christian country, there are likely to be many people who are no more religious than the vast majority of Brits and will carry out a similar ritual behind their own drawn blinds. So, don’t fret too much about being the only one(s) not fasting; there will be others!
On top of this, I met one (practising) Muslim in Turkey who told me that truck drivers and travellers are immune from Ramadan to prevent too much delirium on the roads.
Just because you may not be a Muslim yourself, it does not necessarily mean you should not consider partaking in the fast – at least for a day or two. One of my most cherished memories from my time in Turkey was staying with a family in Cappadocia, with whom we fasted from sunrise to sunset one day, having shared with them the pre-sunrise feast.
There’s no better way of understanding something than by giving it a shot yourself. Even though you may not be a Muslim – or even religious at all – I don’t think many Muslims would take offence to your partaking of the ritual.
A light-hearted but also vaguely practical point to end with… If there is one thing you can count on during Ramadan, it is the fact that there will be a lot of people wandering around with bad breath.
Try joining in for one day, and you’ll understand that going without water for a sustained period tends to result in a rather foul smell emanating from one's mouth. So be prepared, and avoid making a difficult day any harder for the practising Muslim by avoiding mention of his or her predicament.
Steve Dew-Jones travelled through Turkey and Iran as part of a six-month hitchhike, which saw him travel from the UK all the way to Malaysia. Follow his adventure in his book The Rule Of Thumb.