When you have been on the road for four months, you sometimes forget some essentials. For example in my case, we booked a trip to the beautiful island of Langkawi that we obviously knew was part of an Islamic country, but we failed to discover that during our stay the entire island (and country) was in the phase of commemorating the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad: the fasting month of Ramadan.
Since I was born in an Islamic country, I know what Ramadan is and how life can look like during this month. (Also it has made me prejudice.) In its core, for Muslims, Ramadan means refraining from consuming food and drinks from dawn until sunset, smoking and having sexual relations, for a period of one month. However there is a lot more that comes to it and from what I could remember, it was all very strict.
Once we noticed that we had booked everything during Ramadan, I have to admit that I was a bit anxious. How will the vibe be? What are the rules for non-Muslims and can I still eat and drink freely while chilling at the beach or should I hide myself a bit out of respect? Now Ramadan is over and I have experienced it all from a traveller’s perspective I have learned that not all Islamic countries are the same. (Definitely a ‘duhh’ moment)
What I noticed first
The island was very quiet. At first I thought that it was mainly because of low season, but of course, a lot of shops are closed and restaurants mostly open after sunset during Ramadan. The schools are out and most locals try to lay low and out of the sun. So if you like peace and quiet, you need to book a trip to Langkawi during low season and especially during Ramadan.
The downside is that the island is not really lively. So when you are in the mood for a crowd, you will probably not find any. Of course, there are always the touristic streets and bars, but if that is not really your cup of tea you should fully prepare yourself to only relax in peace and quiet. I loved it.
What I loved more
During Ramadan, Muslims observe five normal prayers per day. At dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and in the evening. To remember the community of these moments, all mosques perform the Azan, the Islamic call to worship. It basically sounds like a song that is sang with great passion. The first words toll ‘Allahu akbar’, which would ring alarm bells in the minds of everyone who lives in the west, but here it is the sound of peace and solidarity.
One by one, Muslims, young and old, trickle in the different mosques that are spread throughout the island and start their prayers. The island becomes even quieter and we as travellers only hear the Azan and the calming sounds of nature. Despite my own negative associations with Azan and its first words, I became quite fond of these moments and simply enjoyed the calmness that it brought to the island. It truly has something magical to it.
What surprised me
What really surprised me is that Malaysia is such an open country and has a very accepting society. 98% is Muslim and yet everyone from all countries and with all religions live peacefully next to each other. Something that I was not used to. There is no judging whether you walk in your bikini or a full burka. Whether you drink alcohol or fast an entire month. The people are extremely friendly and never give you the feeling that you do not belong in their community no matter what your believes are.
Now we only hear Azan once a day, the street are more crowded and all restaurants are open. The island is more lively yet the vibe has always remained the same: Chill & Relaxed!
Tell me your thoughts, have you ever doubted to travel to an Islamic country, let alone during Ramadan?