Overcoming the Challenges of FWM (Flying While Muslim)
Fasting, finding suitable prayer space and clearing security checks are
a few travel barriers faced by visible Muslims. Sya
Taha shares her
Having to fast in the summer months for the second year in a row, I’m
escaping to the tropics towards the end of this Ramadan. After about 20
days fasting for 19 hours each day in the Netherlands, I’ll be over the
moon thinking about fast for a duration that I am most used to: 13 hours
I realize that this is a privilege on my part, to be able to fly halfway
across the world. I’m not doing it just for the shorter hours, though;
I’m also looking forward to being with my family during what I consider
to be the most special celebration of my entire year. I have explained
it to fellow Dutch people that Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr in combination is
just like Christmas for them (perhaps a weak analogy seeing how
Christmas and Easter celebrations have been secularised for most of the
country, but it will have to do).
Today’s travel times are much shorter than what the 7th-century
travellers mentioned in the Qur’an had to deal with. We can travel
almost anywhere in the world in a matter of a few days. Some things,
however, remain the same. Here are some things to consider if you are
flying during Ramadan:
Travellers are exempt from fasting during a journey (2:184-5),
will want to anyway. Those whose work involves travel may decide to
fast some days instead of missing out on the whole month.
For example, my friend works as an air stewardess and crosses time zones
every three days. When Ramadan comes around, she eats a meal on board
for sahur, and breaks her fast when the sun sets at the plane’s
destination – wherever that might be, and however long her fast may be.
At the end of the month, she tallies the total number of days and pays
back a few days later in the year to make up 29 or 30 days.
2. Conserving energy
During Ramadan my energy levels are lower than usual, so I don’t want to
deal with the extra hassle of luggage. I pack only the bare minimum and
try to travel as light as possible. While I may have to carry on a heavy
item like my laptop, I try to check in as much of my other belongings as
As much as possible, I make use of online check-in (if available) so
that I only have to drop off my luggage at the airport. This is often a
separate and shorter line, or for some airlines a completely automatic
process with the use of drop-off luggage machines. No more standing in
3. In-flight meals
As I booked my ticket for this upcoming journey, my husband realised
that the flight was at 10pm – just after iftar time. I didn’t know if
the airline would serve dinner so late at night, so I sent them a quick
email. Happily, the airline responded that they would serve meals in
time for iftar and sahur to any passenger that wanted it, throughout
If in doubt, ask in advance. Many airlines are happy to accommodate
their passengers’ needs even though Ramadan may not be in their
calendar. If there are no meals served, it is also possible to bring
your own dates and meals onboard, and water is always available upon
While this may not be a concern specific to Ramadan, it’s still helpful
to know that many airports have a meditation or prayer room (specific or
interfaith) in at least one of their terminals (even where you least
expect it). While such rooms are expected and abundant in airports of
Muslim-majority countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, I
have been to prayer rooms in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris,
Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, Madrid Barajas airport, Schiphol
airport in Amsterdam and, of course, Changi airport in Singapore.
I was once in Paris’ main airport, where there were separate Christian,
Jewish and Muslim prayer rooms. When I peeked into the Muslim room, it
was full of men in congregational prayer. Intimidated, I tiptoed over to
the empty Jewish room. I opened the door tentatively and ready to
explain myself, but there was no one there. It was also spacious
and clean and I could do my prayer in total silence. Thank Allah!
As for praying on the plane, I usually pray unobtrusively in
my seat. By checking the ‘live’ flight path on your inflight
entertainment screen (if available) or visualising the airplane’s
general flight path, it is also possible to approximate the
direction to Mecca from your seat.
The Qur’an also gives travellers the option to shorten their prayers
when in unusual circumstances (4:101-3).
The Shafi’i school of thought elaborates on how to do this through
the use of qasar (shortening) and jama’ (combining) prayers. The
Qur’an also gives the option of doing tayammum (dry ablution) in
special circumstances (5:6).
If water is available, one may also do only the obligatory ablution
– washing hands, face, arms, hairline, and feet, only once – to save
on time and public water resources. Make the most out of these
5. Security checks
I’ve been asked to remove my headscarf at security checks. I’ve also
had friends recount to me their unpleasant experiences being asked
to remove their hijab or their dupatta.
I have also been detained, without any explanation, in a room at
Houston Airport, while my name (well, more probably my father’s name
which contains ‘Muhammad’) was run through a database. I have also
had immigration officers ask me unnecessary questions because of my
Recite Aitual Quarsi before the encounter for a safe passage.
Whether one travels for work or pleasure during Ramadan, I hope that
it can be a pleasant experience for everyone. I believe that the
reason God gives us exemptions while travelling is because it can
indeed be difficult and God understands us best.