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Craving for community sets travel trends for Ramadan

European Muslims are increasingly keen to travel to Islamic countries to celebrate

Saudi Arabia's new visa regulations mean visitors from over 60 nationalities can now get their visas online, making it simpler to visit Mecca Mecca prayer pilgrimage tourism travel Ramadan Eid Tasnim Umar/Unsplash
Saudi Arabia's overhaul of visa regulations mean visitors from more than 60 nationalities can now get their visas online, making it simpler to visit Mecca for Ramadan or Eid

Across the Muslim world, it is usual for Ramadan time to be spent at home. Familiar domestic environments are a comfortable backdrop for the age-old cycles of fasting and prayer. 

However, a new generation of Muslims is changing all that. Those who, like myself, have grown up in Europe in non-Muslim countries – in my case, in Germany – crave the experience of spending Ramadan in a Muslim country.

Of course, the rituals of Ramadan are the same wherever you are, but for those living in Europe it is a much smaller experience – something you share with your family and immediate relatives, perhaps with the community at your local majlis at most.

But in a non-Muslim country, you don’t have that experience of walking the streets with the sights, sounds and smells of Ramadan all around. 

Many, like me, yearn to experience Ramadan as a communal event and enjoy the sense of being part of the worldwide ummah community. It is this desire which has fuelled the recent trend for European Muslims to travel to Muslim countries for Ramadan.

Where’s top of the list for HalalBooking customers wanting the full 360-degree Ramadan experience?

Istanbul is an extremely popular choice – it has good flight connections, a wide choice of well-priced hotels and an impeccable Islamic heritage.

The Ramadan atmosphere is something to be experienced with all the senses: mosques are hung with strings of lights, the pre-dawn suhur meal is signalled by the famous davulcu beating drums in the street, and the signal to break the fast is given by the firing of the Ramadan cannon, rich traditions stretching back through the Ottoman Empire. 

Sarajevo, at the heart of the Balkans, celebrated for its diverse cultural and religious heritage, with influences from Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Slavic traditions, is another popular Ramadan destination. 

Another big trend we’ve seen this year is Ramadan Umrah – ie pilgrimage to Mecca during the holy month.

Saudi Arabia recently overhauled its visa regulations so that visitors from more than 60 nationalities can now get their visas online, meaning that pilgrims no longer need to travel as part of a group with a specialist agency.

Having the freedom to simply book flights and accommodation online makes it simpler to visit Mecca and Medina. 

Not only do the blessings of Umrah increase during the sacred month of Ramadan, but pilgrims also have the opportunity to experience the unique atmosphere in the holy cities.

The ummah is brought together from across the globe in all its diverse beauty, to share iftar with locals in the home of the Prophet Muhammad and pray Taraweeh shoulder to shoulder in the Masjid al-Haram and Masjid an-Nabawi.

The other trend, new for this year, is that we’re seeing traffic coming the other way too, since the UK government eased visa restrictions for Emiratis, Bahrainis, Omanis, Kuwaitis and Saudis, with a quicker approval process.

For them it’s a novel experience to come and see the Ramadan lights in London’s West End, a diverse multicultural city, where hotels are well used to catering for the needs of Muslim guests.

As a time of celebration, Eid has always been a popular time for holidays – and bookings are up from all markets this year.

Many are heading to Turkish or Moroccan resorts such as Antalya, Izmir or Agadir for spring sunshine, whilst those seeking warmer climes are choosing the Maldives, Qatar, Egypt and Dubai for beach holidays. 

During Eid al-Fitr the holy cities of Mecca and Medina remain popular for Umrah and those seeking city breaks are drawn to Istanbul, Sarajevo, Paris and Rome. 

Ufuk Seçgin is chief marketing officer at HalalBooking, a London-founded global Muslim travel agency

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