Where to spend Ramadan

ATN looks at where your clients could go to experience Ramadan

Singapore is lit up for the Hari Raya (end of Ramadan) celebrations.
Singapore is lit up for the Hari Raya (end of Ramadan) celebrations.
The Zahir Mosque in Malaysia has been voted one of the top ten most beautiful mosques in the world.
The Zahir Mosque in Malaysia has been voted one of the top ten most beautiful mosques in the world.
Cultural performances during the Jordan Festival are set to take place among the ruins of the ancient city of Jerash.
Cultural performances during the Jordan Festival are set to take place among the ruins of the ancient city of Jerash.
Ramadan nights in Egypt come alive with cultural shows.
Ramadan nights in Egypt come alive with cultural shows.

Ramadan in the summer doesn’t have to mean a drop in bookings. ATN looks at where your clients could go to experience the holy month this year.

With the holy month of Ramadan edging ever earlier and earlier each year into the peak summer holiday season, many travel agents are worried that their summer bookings are set to take a battering as local families opt to forgo their usual travel plans and stay at home instead.

But for Muslim clients that still want to get away this summer there are lots of destinations promoting themselves specifically to the GCC market as ideal places to come and experience the holy month of Ramadan.

John Felix, senior vice president, Emirates Holidays says: “Maybe it won’t be the same volume of people who are travelling out, but there is a mix - some people would definitely prefer to spend Ramadan here and be around their extended family, but there are others who would prefer to travel with their families abroad.”

Felix recommends predominately Muslim destinations such as “Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Malaysia” as ideal places to spend Ramadan, and adds that “travelling East is another advantage for people who are fasting as the days become shorter”.

This year Ramadan takes place from around 11 August until 9 September, but don’t forget, it’s set to happen in the summer for the next four years so these destinations will no doubt become very popular with GCC travellers looking to combine their summer escape with a different kind of Ramadan experience.

With its diverse ethnic mix, and large Muslim population, Ramadan is widely respected in Singapore. “Singapore is a multi-racial country, with a large Muslim population, so visitors from the Gulf can expect a festive atmosphere at this time of year,” says Jason Ong, area director, Singapore Tourism Board.

He adds: “Arabs have been in Singapore since the early 1800s and we even have a precinct - Kampong Glam - dedicated to them where people can find Arabic food.

“During Ramadan bazaars spring up everywhere, while mosques engage in nightly Tarawih prayers as well as pre-dawn Qiyam prayers. Hari Raya Aidilfitri marks the end of Ramadan. This is the biggest event in the Muslim calendar.

Its a magical time to be in Singapore, when visitors can absorb the atmosphere through beautiful street decorations, plus exciting events and promotions in the Malay precincts of Kampong Glam and Geylang Serai,” says Ong.

Hari Raya celebrations involve festive decorations, bazaars and cultural performances. Visitors will also be able to participate in iftar at the Sultan Mosque in Kampong Glam or Khalid Mosque in Geylang Serai,while hotels will be providing breakfast suhours and bus shuttle services to the local mosques.

Key draws: Bazaars and festivities in Kampong Glam.
How to get there: Emirates Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways
Contact: Singapore Tourism Board
Tel: 971 4335 3770
Email: dubai@stb.gov.sg

Malaysia is promoting itself as the ideal destination to spend Ramadan this year for families from the GCC, and even launched a special ‘Malaysian Ramadan tourism package’ at this year’s Arabian Travel Market.

Malaysia’s Minister for Tourism Dato’ Sri Dr Ng Yen Yen, says: “We believe that Malaysia is the destination of choice to spend Ramadan. Why? Number one, commonality of religion; number two: we are east of the Middle East so the daylight hours will be shorter for guests; third, our Ramadan celebrations are quite different to the Middle East. Our Ramadan New Year is the most important New Year for the Malays in Malaysia.

Fourth, in Malaysia there is a very peculiar culture whereby non-Muslims will also join with Muslims in breaking fast regardless of their religion. People all come together. And last but not least the month of Ramadan is the month of Ramadan bazaars.

It’s the only month of the year where many housewives and homemakers will cook very special food and sell it at the bazaars. You will find that the whole country waits for these bazaars. It’s a celebratory occasion.”

Dr Ng adds that as part of the drive to encourage more Gulf visitors to Malaysia during Ramadan, the shops will be opening later and hotels will offer lavish iftar buffets. “We will look at having the shops to open longer hours at night because it’s so unique to the Arab world that during Ramadan people shop till two or three in the morning.

“Hotels taking part in this programme will also be changing the hours at which they serve food and the type of food they serve. In Malaysia every hotel during Ramadan will always have a sumptuous buffet served as the whole country celebrates.”

Another draw is the Qur’an reading competitions aired nightly on Malaysian TV.

Dr Ng adds: “We are a very modern, progressive Islamic country, and any Muslim that comes to Malaysia will feel very comfortable – from the perspective of food, prayer times and religious practices. They will feel very at home and yet they experience very different experiences, because Malaysia is an Islamic country but with great diversity.

She adds: “Because Ramadan and summer will be with us for the next four years we would like to see Malaysia be the Ramadan tourism destination of choice.”

Key draws: Ramadan bazaars, Qu’ran reading contests on TV, late night shopping and hotels serving lavish iftars buffets.
How to get there: Emirates, Etihad and Gulf Air all fly to Kuala Lumpur. Oman Air recently also started flights from Oman to Kuala Lumpur.
Contact: Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board
Tel: +971 4337 7578
Email: mtpb.dubai@tourism.gov

The key draws of Jordan are its perfect climate and the myriad of festivities, celebrations and activities that will be taking place during Ramadan.

“Jordan is a great place to come during Ramadan for GCC families, because the weather is cooler, and the atmosphere is traditional and family friendly,” says Sa’ed Zawaideh, educational, medical, religious tourism manager, Jordan Tourism Board.

During Ramadan there will nightly entertainment in many of the coffee shops, restaurants, hotels and malls as well as at Jordan’s many cultural sites. The biggest highlight is the Jordan Festival which takes place from 30 June until 30 August.

The cultural and arts festival will feature performances from famous Arabic singers, dancers and poets - many of them staged in dramatic open air locations such as among the ruins at Jerash – one of best preserved ancient Roman cities in the Middle East. The festival is a huge draw for visitors from all around the Middle East region.

GCC visitors to Jordan will encounter a slightly more laid back approach to Ramadan to what they might be used to at home adds Zawaideh: “Jordan is a moderate country and more liberal than GCC countries in a sense that all hotels outlets and food outlets are open during Ramadan.”

Key draws: The Jordan Festival 2010 takes places from June 30 – August 30. The festival will feature performances by Pink Martini, Il Divo, Rim Banna (Palestine), Palestine Youth Orchestra and Shaolin Monks among many others. Tickets will be available online and at locations around Jordan.
How to get there:Emirates, Etihad, Royal Jordanian
Contact: Jordan Festival contact: + 962 6 461 3300
E-mail: info@jordanfestival2010.org

Egypt is known as the ‘country of one thousand domes’ and with so many beautiful mosques to visit, plus a lively atmosphere during Ramadan nights, its a popular destination to experience the month of Ramadan.

Some of the must-visit mosques in Cairo are in Islamic and Coptic Cairo, or Old Cairo. The area features the Mosque of Amr Ibn El Aas - one of the oldest in Cairo. Other well known mosques are Al Rifai, Sultan Hassan, Ibn Tuluun and Mohamed Ali Mosques. But there are other less known mosques with beautiful architecture that visitors can also visit.

These include: the Mosque-Madrasa of Sultan Al-Malik Al-Mu’ayyad Shaykh. Raised on the ruins of an ancient jail, this mosque is an outstanding landmark of Cairo’s Islamic monuments and was one of the leading educational institutions of the fifteenth century. It is located behind Bab Zuwayla – the southern gate of the old Fatimid City.

The Blue Mosque: originally constructed in 1346, the mosque got its name thanks to a restoration project completed in the 1600’s which included redecoration of the sanctuary with Isnik blue and turquoise tiles outlined with plant and floral designs imported from Istanbul and Damascus.

Other places to visit include the Museum of Islamic Ceramics, located in the Palace of Prince Ibrahim, which is an impressive example of Islamic architecture and decoration. The museum features a priceless collection of Islamic ceramics from Egypt, Iran, Turkey and southern Spain and demonstrates various firing and decoration techniques.

Ramadan nights in Egypt are known for coming alive with events and entertainment such as music concerts by popular Arabic singers, folklore shows, poetry recitals, oud concerts and Arabic classical concerts taking place almost every evening. Popular places to go for entertainment in historic Cairo are El Amir Taz Palace: a restored Bahari Mamluk palace; Al-Geneina Theatre: the open-air amphitheatre situated inside Al Azhar Park; The Salal Eldin Citadel, which holds music concerts in its garden; and Kobet El Ghouri, and arts centre where you can see dances, music concerts and poetry recitals.

For a different type of iftar, and to enjoy a nice breeze on the Nile, visors can rent a felucca boat and sail the night away enjoying the glittering lights of Cairo, or take the boat during dusk and watch the sunset. Most felucca owners will treat guests to some authentic Arabic music too.

Key draws: Egypt’s famous Ramadan tents spring up all over the country during Ramadan. There are many stunning mosques to visit not forgetting all the ancient monuments.
How to get there: Emirates, Etihad, Egypt Air, Qatar Airways
Contact: Egypt Tourism Authority
Tel: + 2 02 2684 1970

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