Last week was the start of the month of Ramadan, a holy month of fasting for Muslims around the world. I always look forward to this month, and even though this year is a bit different, as I’m fasting while traveling and observing the month in a predominantly Catholic country, I am still enjoying this annual opportunity for introspection and reflection.
If you know me well, or have read previous posts from my blog, you’ll know that I’m a Muslim. While I don’t pray five times a day, and have not yet done my pilgrimage to Mecca, I do try my best to follow the other Islamic pillars of faith: belief in one God (Allah), fasting during Ramadan, and giving alms to the poor (zakat).
Ever since I was little, I have always observed Ramadan. And despite traveling during Ramadan this year, I plan to try my best to fast during this month.
What is Ramadan
So what exactly is Ramadan? Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It was the month that the Quran (Islam’s holy book) was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Throughout the month, Muslims read through the Quran as a way to renew their faith and belief each year.
Muslims follow a lunar calendar, so the dates of Ramadan always shift. It falls approximately eleven days earlier each year. The month itself starts from the first sighting of the new moon, and lasts until the next new moon, roughly 30-31 days. During this whole time period, Muslims abstain from eating from sunrise to sunset. They have a breakfast, called sahur, before the sun rises. And the fast is broken at sunset with a meal called iftar.
Although you may think this time of year is a time of hardship for Muslims, it’s also a time of celebration. If you happen to be traveling during Ramadan and you find yourself in a Muslim community, you’ll see the streets come alive during and after iftar. Families and friends will share iftar meals together. And as part of our obligation as Muslims, we must provide alms to the poor before the month is over.
Fasting creates a sense of solidarity with those who are less fortunate. Even when I’m fasting while traveling abroad, the act of it helps me empathize with what those in need experience on a regular basis.
Islam’s rules for fasting while traveling
Contrary to popular belief, Islam is not a completely strict religion. Even though it may have rules regarding diet (no pork) and worship (separation of men and women), the rules on fasting still center around your own personal health and well-being.
The rules of fasting instructs that only those whose health is strong enough to handle the fast can fast. That means, if you’re sick, if you’re a young child, if you’re menstruating, or even if you’re pregnant, you’re exempt from fasting. Essentially, if the act of fasting puts your health at risk, then don’t do it.
When it comes to fasting while traveling, that exemption also stands. If you’re a Muslim who is traveling during Ramadan, you can postpone your fast until a later time when you’re done traveling.
This stems from the early years of Islam, when Muslims would have to travel through deserts for days at a time, with no water or food in sight. Since the possibility of food wasn’t always a guarantee, fasting was literally a health risk.
These days, travel is a lot less difficult, but it can still be challenging to find meals when you’re on the road. That’s why the exemption still exists, to give travelers one less thing to worry about.
For me, since we slow travel, our days are actually quite routine. It’s not any more challenging for me to be fasting while traveling than if I were doing it at home. Except for days when I am flying, or if I’m doing a work-related food activity, like the culinary walking tour of San Miguel, I’m planning on fasting during the whole month of Ramadan.
Five tips for traveling during Ramadan
Fasting while traveling abroad doesn’t have to be a difficult thing. The key is to stay prepared. If you’re Muslim, here are a few of my tips to help you get through traveling during Ramadan.
Tip 1: Allow yourself some flexibility
As in any travel situation, an important trait to have is flexibility. In travel, you never know what might happen. For example, Muslims usually break their fast with a date. But if you’re traveling to a place where dates aren’t readily available, choose something else to break your fast.
If you’re a traveler visiting a Muslim country during Ramadan, be flexible in your meal times. Restaurants will most likely be closed during the day, so plan your day accordingly.
Tip 2: Put your health first
As I mentioned before, if fasting puts your health at risk, then don’t it. Fasting while traveling can be a challenge because your body is already exhausted from the physical act of traveling. Adding a fast to that exhaustion can sometimes make things worse. Stay aware of your body, and make sure that you’re not jeopardizing your health by fasting while traveling abroad.
Tip 3: Choose breakfasts that are high in protein
Travelers don’t always have access to food when they’re on the road, and making yourself breakfast in the morning can be somewhat of a challenge. If you’re fasting while traveling, try to choose foods that are high in protein for sahur. This will help keep your appetite at bay throughout the day.
Tip 4: Don’t overexert yourself
Traveling can often involve a lot of physical activity: hiking in a forest, swimming in the ocean, climbing up ancient monuments. If you’re fasting while traveling, though, try not to over exert yourself. Even walking through a city and sight-seeing can take its toll if you haven’t eaten food or sipped water for the whole day.
Fasting while traveling abroad
For Muslim travelers, fasting while traveling abroad doesn’t have to be challenging. With some flexibility, you can still practice your faith and explore the world.
I’m looking forward to how the rest of the month pans out. By the time Ramadan ends, we’ll be in Italy. And with any luck, I’ll be enjoying an Italian feast as I celebrate Eid! Until then, Ramadan Mubarak!
Do you have experience with fasting while traveling? Share them in the comments below.
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