The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is set to begin on the 18th of June 2015, and will continue until 17th July 2015. However, the dates may fluctuate due to the siting of the moon. Special precaution should be taken during this time, and a need for increased cultural sensitivity is needed. In some Muslim-Majority countries or those with an Islamic structure of state, the fast is mandatory and violating the religious act is illegal.
The purpose of Ramadan is an opportunity for Muslims to strengthen their relationship with Allah. This manifests itself in abstaining from smoking, sex, drinking and eating during hours of daylight. The fast is broken at the end of the day following the sunset, and is commonly marked with family gatherings. Travellers are encouraged to show respect for those fasting by publically abstaining also.
The fast usually has an effect on the normality of business patterns. Early closures, shorter working hours and decreased correspondence may be expected. Travel disruption is likely to increase, and a reliance on public transport should be readdressed. Prayers at mosques are likely to be more densely attended, and people are likely to prey more frequently than usual. Due to the physical toll of the fast, individuals may be irritable or short tempered and an awareness of this is essential. Many shops, restaurants and other amenities may close sporadically. Once the fast is broken in the night, there may be increased traffic as individuals attend iftar. There is usually an increase in crime during this time, as thieves take advantage of the festive atmosphere.
Following Ramadan, a three day festival known as “Eid-al-Fitr” takes place.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provide the following advice if travelling to Muslim Countries:
“Non-Muslims should show respect to those who are fasting and pay attention so as not to offend Islamic values. If you demonstrate culturally insensitive behaviour that offends, you could be arrested. Non-Muslims should observe the rules of Ramadan in public and should note the following:
- Avoid eating, drinking, chewing gum or smoking in public during the daytime (including in your car) – many people will understand that you aren’t under the same obligation to fast but will appreciate your awareness. Pregnant, nursing women and young children are exempt from the provisions, but discretion should be exercised.
- In some Muslim countries it’s actually illegal to eat and drink in daylight during Ramadan.
- Some restaurants will close or operate amended opening hours during Ramadan
- Restaurants that cater to tourists may open as usual but hotels will sometimes use screens to keep western diners sectioned off from Islamic guests
- Take extra care about your clothing during the holy month. Ensure you dress modestly as standards may be policed even more carefully than usual
- Driving may be more erratic than usual, particularly during the later afternoon and early evening, be patient and show tolerance especially during this time
- Business hours may become shorter in the day
- Loud music and dancing is considered disrespectful during Ramadan. Please do not play music or dance in public areas.
It’s not impossible to travel or do business in Islamic countries during Ramadan, but different rules do apply.”
In some countries such as Oman, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia Ramadan is enforced by law. Travellers can be imprisoned and even deported if they are seen to be publically not abstaining. In Saudi Arabia, the religious police increase their patrols during the month, and can be incredibly heavy handed. In Oman, Jordan and UAE those who are not observing the fast are usually required to eat in closed, screened areas.
In countries like Malaysia and Indonesia with large Muslim populations, non-Muslims are not expected to observe Ramadan. However, discretion is still needed during this time. In more religious areas of the countries, an increased sensitivity to the holy month is expected. Business closures and a lack of availability of food during daylight hours should be expected.
In countries like Turkey, who have a large population of Muslim’s but with no influence in the state realm there will be lesser concern over the observation. Large congregations are still expected in large cities. The more conservative East of the country will have a less tolerant approach and reduced amenities will be likely.
History has proved that an increase in large scale political violence and terrorism does not coincide with Ramadan. Yet, the holy month is seen as a unique time for religious extremists to launch attacks. Some countries will likely increase security protection at foreign businesses, embassies and offices during this time. The overall risk environment of a country equates with the existing security environment.
Countries with an extreme security environment and a known presence of Islamist Extremism are at unique risk. This includes the threat of Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabaab in Somalia, Islamic State and other religiously influenced militants in Iraq and Syria, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and so on. Of note, the Australian and US consulate services have warned of the potential for attacks in both Kenya and Nigeria.
In Egypt, there is also a potential for attacks. Following the attempted attack on Luxor and combined with the commitment to sending Morsi to death, there is an already tense environment between the military state and the largely Muslim population. Some groups may see Ramadan as a unique opportunity to attack state targets.
In the Occupied West Bank and particularly East Jerusalem, tensions between the Palestinian population and the Israeli State may continue to increase during Ramadan. Although there is talk that Muslims will be allowed to worship in Al- Aqsa on Temple Mount, this could be suspended and lead to unrest and violence.
Areas with a supressed Muslim population may also be a site of increased risk. Authorities in the Xinjiang area of China have stated that officials must not observe Ramadan. In addition, parts of India with a minority Muslim population, particularly Kashmir may use the religious event as a cause of their increased action.