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This Is What It's Like Travelling & Fasting Across Different Timezones

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Siti Ayeeshah Zaki •  May 02, 2022

Ramadan's an interesting month for all of us: balancing our day-to-day responsibilities, work and worship, some days it might just seem like there's not enough time for all of it! So what happens when your day-to-day involves travelling from one country to another? From figuring out sahur and iftar timings, to his favourite spots to travel around the world, we speak to 25-year-old Kaleem Ahmid: a scholar, community builder, and of course, a traveller!

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Travelling & Fasting During Ramadan

1. Tell us about yourself! 

My name is Kaleem Ahmid, I am a 25-year old South African (from Johannesburg) currently living in Boston MA, USA. I moved to Boston in 2016 for college (I went to Northeastern University, where I studied philosophy in undergrad and then did a Masters in Public Health, graduating in 2021). I am now a community builder in Boston for the Effective Altruism movement, and a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, focusing on biosecurity.

2. Which countries did you travel to this Ramadan?

During Ramadan I travelled to Oxford, London, Milwaukee, Boston, and New York. The traveling to the UK was for work pertaining to Effective Altruism, whilst the other stuff was me having a bit of a holiday after an intense past 6 months.

3. Do you usually travel this often?

Historically I have travelled quite a lot. Growing up we would travel to Zimbabwe quite often, and we would also go on holidays every year as a family. Since moving to the US, I have mostly travelled locally on the East Coast, but I’ve also travelled to the UK for work, and to South Africa for the US summer holidays.

4. What was fasting like across different timezones?

Fortunately Boston and London and Oxford are in pretty similar latitudes, so the sunrise and sunset times weren’t that different whilst I was travelling. So the timezones didn’t make it harder to fast, although it was a tough Ramadan because of all the work I was doing.

5. Did you ever experience moments where you would sahur in one country and break fast in another? Did that bring about any concerns and how did you rectify that?

I did that twice this Ramadan! On the day I flew to London from Boston, I had Suhur in Boston and took a late night flight to London. The flight is ~6 hours. I broke fast soon after taking off from Boston (around 7:30pm) and then had Suhur on the plane before landing in London (6 hour flight plus 6 hour time difference, so I was landing around 7:30am and sunrise in London was around 5am).

I didn’t have any concerns about this (mostly because I had planned it way ahead of time), but also because it is possible these days (with Wifi and flight tracking) to know when the sunset and sunrise is wherever your flight is. The only caveat (which I got from a Mufti I was sitting with on a plane during iftar in 2014) is that because of elevation, sometimes the sunset when you’re in a plane is much later than it would be when you’re on the ground underneath you, and you cannot break fast whilst you can see the sun.

6. Have you ever had any interesting sahurs/ iftars (eg. In a plane? Which timings did you follow?)

Yeah, I broke fast with Mufti Menk on a flight to Zimbabwe from South Africa in 2014. It was pretty special!

7. What’s your favourite destination and why? Do you have any travel tips for that destination?

I really like London and Singapore. I think growing up in a commonwealth country made me predisposed to like British culture, so I really have a great time in London because its such an amazing multicultural, vibrant city, but the underlying common culture is one that I’m familiar with and enjoy, whereas places like New York are exciting but the underlining American culture is something that I still don’t feel part of.

8. Do you have any tips for fellow travellers who might want to travel during Ramadan in the future?

I would encourage people to travel as much as they would any other time of the year, and learn to enjoy things about places they visit other than food (which for me is hard, but has forced me into enjoying things like art and architecture more than I typically would). I would also encourage people to try and fast as much as they reasonably can when they’re traveling - I see a lot of muslims traveling and taking advantage of the allowance not to fast when traveling, even though they clearly could be fasting. The exception likely came about when “traveling” involved spending days or weeks on horseback or camel going from place to place, but traveling now is usually a sub-10-hour experience, which we can all pretty easily manage I think. 

9. Do you have any tips for travellers travelling during Covid?

Thankfully I think in a lot of places we’re on the decline with cases, and lots of people are fully vaccinated. The public health professional in me would probably say be sensible about mask wearing - you don’t have to do it all the time (like when you’re outside or in a sparsely populated indoor space) but I would still consider wearing them on public transport or in crowded spaces. The main risk now is getting infected when abroad and not being to fly back because you can’t produce a negative covid test before your flight.

Okay but, lunch with Mufti Menk and having sahur in the sky? Traveller dreams, for sure! ? It's the end of Ramadan - what's Ramadan been like for you?