Respecting Islam

Whilst travelling abroad in a Muslim majority country, it would be good practise to familiarise yourself with local customs and culture. Although there are many Muslim countries that appear to project a Western and more liberal outlook, there are some basic rules that should be shown in any country to avoid offence and to get the most out of travelling.

Muslim majority countries tend to be conservative in outlook and have specific rules (either constitutional or societal) with which the unwitting traveller may not be familiar. The tourist who can show respect to Islam will find that the doors of friendship and accommodation will open wide, and they will see a more personal side to the people they meet.


flickr image by modenadude

Alcohol and relations with the opposite gender may be the most obvious differences between Western and Islamic cultures. Alcohol may be readily available in Western hotels and bars in some countries (or not at all, as in the case of Iran or Saudi Arabia), but it is not advisable to be intoxicated to a noticeable extent in public. Friendships with people of the opposite gender may be forbidden on in some countries and unmarried couples may find it hard to obtain an hotel room together without a marriage certificate. Public displays of affection for all couples will be, at best, frowned upon. Also note that same-gender couples may be illegal in some locales and can attract some very heavy penalties, including imprisonment. In any event, be very discreet at all times in an Islamic country.

Women should be mindful of the conservative dress code that applies to local women and, although it is not a legal requirement in many of the tourist resorts that westerners frequent (e.g. Dubai, Sinai or Tunisia), it is best practice to cover up shoulders, upper arms and bare legs when leaving the grounds of your accommodation or resort. Of course, all visits to Mosques or other places of worship will require Islamic dress for men (long trousers and shirt) and women (headscarf and covering of the body) and the removal of shoes.

Muslim Festibal

flickr image by Bilal Randeree

When travelling during the holy month of Ramadan (the months of fasting during daylight hours which falls on different dates every year), an important point to note is that tourists should show respect for local customs and traditions by not eating, drinking or smoking in public (including in cars) during daylight hours. Exceptions to this ‘rule’, usually, are children under 12 years of age, the elderly and/or infirm, and menstruating, pregnant or lactating women. During this period, tempers may be frayed and service slow; most restaurants and cafés will be closed (except in some hotels and resorts); and tourists should maintain respect and understanding during this time of ‘spiritual cleansing’.

After Ramadan there is a three day holiday period called ‘Eid Al Fitr’, often accompanied by festivals and feasts.

Date posted: 6th September, 2011

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