Top 10 Muslim Festivals to Experience

Coming back from an adventurous trip to Iraq, I thought about how interesting religious festivals actually are. Some of the best travel experiences I have ever had, were combined with the observation of different old festivals with roots in world religions. I have previously made a list of Christian Festivals to experience, check that list out.

This list contains the name of the top 10 most fascinating Muslim festivals around the world, that would be great to experience in person together with the year 2020 happening dates.

  1. Hajj
    Place to be: Mecca, Saudi Arabia
    Time to be next year: July 28, 2020
    This one is undisputedly the most famous and important festival of the year in the Islamic world. Every Muslim is required to do a pilgrimage to Mecca once in his or hers lifetime. The pilgrimage consists of few rituals that traces back to Abraham who built the Kaaba, which is the most holy building in Islam.Every year millions of Muslims from all kinds of nations and races gather here, strip themselves of all symbols of status, wealth and pride and they put on the same white garments. All as one they walk around the Kaaba seven times, they face while praying in a circle and they perform all kinds of other interesting rituals and prayers that makes them forget all about their earthly desires, their race and nation and just feel one with their fellow believers.Unfortunately, this festival is closed for non-muslims, so only a muslim (traveller) will be able to witness it in person. However, you can enjoy the rest of the festivals on this list.
    .
    .
  2. Mawlid
    Place to be: Khartoum, Sudan
    Time to be next year: October 28, 2020

    20181108_203520
    Celebrating the Mawlid in Sudan – Personal trip, 2018

    The mawlid is the celebration of the birthday of Prophet Muhammad. This festival is celebrated all over the muslim world, officially except of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, where it is forbidden, however, even there you can experience people celebrating it despite the law. However, if you want the best of all festivals, you should visit a strong Sufi dominated area. I can strongly recommend the Khalifa House Square in Khartoum. On the day, you will see Sudanese from all over the country arriving by foot and putting up a great festival in this square with lots of songs, dances, food and religious speeches. Every Sufi Tarika (Meaning “way of practice”) have their own tent and their own way of celebrating. Walk from place to place and participate in the event.
    .

  3. Ashura and Arbaeen
    Place to be: Karbalaa, Iraq
    Time to be next year: August 28 and October 7, 2020

    20191018153558_IMG_3847~2
    Arbaeen 2019 – Personal trip to Iraq

    Ashura and Arbaeen are two very connected ceremonies, so I have gathered them together here. Ashura commemorate the events of The Battle of Karbalaa in 685 AD, where the family of Prophet Muhammad was brutally murdered and captured. During 10 days up to the day of Ashura, the whole city is filled with mourning pilgrims crying and beating themselves over this terrible event, while poems and slogans are shouted all over the city and even plays are performed. It all ends with a run towards the shrine of Hussein, the grandson of prophet Muhammad.
    The Arbaeen is a similar but much larger (and more calm) event, that happens 40 days after Ashura. This event commemorate the day, when the remaining family of Hussein finally came back to Karbalaa to mourn their dead. Up til the day of Arbaeen pilgrims from all over the country walk from their cities to Karbalaa to pay their respect. The Arbaeen is the largest annual peaceful gathering in the world with more than 20 million attendees every year.

    .

  4. Mela Chiraghan (festival of lamps)
    Place to be: Lahore, Pakistan
    Time to be next year: March 28, 2020
    This celebration marks the death day of another Hussein, namely the sufi poet Shah Hussein. He was such a beloved character by everyone from all casts and religions in Pakistan, and every year the whole citizens of Lahore decorate their houses with different lights and oil lamps, making a beautiful scenery.
    The main festivities happen around Shah Hussein’s shrine. Here free food is distributed and people from all over the country come to light up candles, lamps and lay flowers. The climax is the ignition of the large bonfire, where people would throw in all kinds of cotton lamps and candles making wishes. The bonfire will go on for 3 full days.
    ..
    .
  5. Perang Topat
    Place to be: Lombok, Indonesia
    Time to be next year: November, 2020
    There is a holy place in Lombok for both muslims and hindu. The Pura Lingsar shrines house the combined Muslim and Hindu autumn festival. The festival is also called the Rice War between Muslims and Hindus. A very peaceful kinda war though. It all starts after both religious groups have finished their prayers in the temple. Time of the day: Just after the muslim afternoon prayer (Asr-prayer).
    Both sides of the war will gather in formations on each side of their temple wearing tradition clothes and arming themselves with rice wrapped in leaves. After a speech and some festivities, both sides start throwing the rice at each other. They then engage in a joyful and friendly fight with rice and laughter will fill the temple site. It is truly a celebration of harmony and peace between two religions who live side by side.
    .
    .
  6. Chechen Zikr
    Place to be: Grozny, Russia
    Time to be next year: Any Thursday or Friday, but best at major Islamic holidays.
    The distinct Chechen Zikr is a one of the most fascinating Sufi ceremonies in the world. The circular dances, the rhythm, stamping and the prayers are simply so hypnotizing that just by observing it you can induce in a trance. The Zikr was in danger of being extinct due to atheistic rule enforcement by the Soviet/Russian authorities, who sees these ceremonies as a threat to them. Also Saudi Arabian Wahabi groups have several times attacked those Sufi orders. Now however, the Chechen Zikr is facing a renaissance and can be witnessed many places in Grozny, also in the Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque. Try to visit during the Islamic Ramadan, Eid or Mawlid to catch a larger gathering of worshipers performing this ritual.
    .
    .
  7. Fez Festival of World Sacret Music
    Place to be: Fez, Morocco
    Time to be next year: June 12, 2020
    This is maybe the most modern festival on the list as it in 2020 will only be the 26th edition. Here religious (mainly Muslims but also from other faiths) musicians from all over the world perform religious songs. You can find famous artists like Sami Yusuf, local musicians, Sufi orderes peforming and artists from all over the world like Iran, Spain and Scotland also attend and perform. It is a bridge between the Muslim faith and other religions build with the love of music and art.
    .
    .
  8. Bishwa Ijtema, Dhaka
    Place to be: Dhaka, Bangladesh
    Time to be next year: January 10, 2020
    Directly translated to “World Conference”, this is truly an international Muslim gathering with over 5 million participants every year, making it another of the largest annual gatherings in the world. The small suburb city, Tongi, the streets will be filled with people praying all together as one. Not only the streets but also the rooftops and basically everywhere is occupied by worshipers praying for 3 days, reciting Quran and having preaches about the meaning of the Quranic verses. The final congregational prayer on the last day will be for wishing for world peace.
    .
    .
  9. Durbar Festival
    Place to be: Kano, Nigeria
    Time to be next year: May 23 and July 30

    Durbar
    Horseman at the Durbar Festival (Source: Andy Waite, Wikipedia Commons)

    This is one of the most interesting festivals of all. It takes place in the former Kano Emirate, that is today a part of Nigeria. It is basically a ceremony that happens on important occasions, most certain to happen during the Muslims Eid Holidays. The city of Kano still have the Palace of the Emir called Gidan Rumfa, and he and his family still lives in it. Every Eid-ul-Fitr or Eid-ul-Adha he will wear the traditional medieval clothes and ride on his horse with his men out in the city. He and his men will parade the city, there will be music, prayers and rituals on horseback.
    .

  10. Tabuik
    Place to be: Pariaman, Sumatra, Indonesia
    Time to be next year: August 20, 2020

    Tabuik_festival
    Tabuik ceremony (Source: Wikipedia)

    This festival is very closely connected to the Ashura and Arbaeen, as it also commemorate the Battle of Karbalaa and Imam Hussein’s sacrifice for the religion. This ceremony however is very different in execution, as it is held by predominately Sunni Indonesian Muslims rather than Shia Iraqi ones. Here they prepare tall funeral biers made of bamboo and send them into the sea. Then people would swim after them. The whole festival is filled with sport activities like swimming and kite running and also plays are performed.

Besides these 10 Muslim festivals, there are hundreds of others all over the world that you can enjoy. In addition, being invited to a traditional Iftar during Ramadan might also be an experience you want to have. If you find it difficult to visit some of these countries, you can find very similar events in more accessible locations. Might even be in your local mosque in your own non-Muslim country. Muslims are in general very welcoming and would be happy if you showed interest in their traditions, so do not be shy to go and ask.

The Erased Heritage of Palestine: A traveller’s itinerary

By Homeintheair (Instagram: @Homeintheair)

During my 10 hours visit to Jerusalem I got a mild form of the famous Jerusalem Syndrome. I was so amazed by all the holy and historical sites. It is truly the most culturally dense city in the world. But Palestine is much more than just Jerusalem. The country is filled with historical sites.

However, during the Nakba the Israeli’s initiated a military program to erase as much non-jewish heritage from the country as possible. This meant the demolishing of some of the most holy sites in Islam and Christianity. Of course the Islamic sites has been hit the hardest, due to the Pope’s intervention which saved some Christian sites and made it possible for hundred thousands of the Christian Palestinians to return after being expelled in the first place.

Nonetheless countless of mosques and churches were either destroyed completely or turned into synagogues, warehousing, horse stables, nightclubs or the like. The exact number is of course disputed but both sides agrees that at least 570 villages were completely destroyed by the Israelis where each one had probably 1-2 mosques. On top of that comes the bigger towns and cities that were destroyed and the many muslim neighborhoods in Jerusalem. You can do the math.

So finally, I have a huge interest in discovering lost places. I seriously should have been an archaeologist! Some of these places I discovered while doing research for my itinerary for my next visit to Palestine. My researcher gene took over and I listed those 10 significant holy sites that were destroyed by Israel during the Nakba and until today. Number in parenthesis is the year of destruction.

1. Nabi Rubin (Reuben son of Jacob) (1948)
Nabi Rubin was one of the most popular sites in Palestine before 1948. The mosque housed Reuben’s grave and every year one of the largest festivals in Palestine would take place here. The festival included singing, dancing the Dabke, distribution of colorful candy, sufi prayers, horse races and magic shows. The festival was so exciting, that Palestinian women from afar would tell their husbands: “Either you take me to Nabi Rubin or you divorce me!”. In 1947 the last festival was held. The next year the city was razed by the Israelis and the mosque destroyed. 
Today, Jews are trying to claim the ruins of the shrine to be one of their own, but their plans has been facing difficulty since Jewish tradition place the grave of Reuben somewhere very different.

Nabi Rubin Festival
The Nabi Rubin Festival before 1948

 

2. Nabi Yamin (Prophet Benjamin) (1948) 
This mosque was not destroyed but converted into a synagoge and prohibited muslim entrance even though the place in the first place was holy to muslims only. Before 1948 the place was not considered holy by the original Palestinian Jews (the Yishuv Jews), nor was it considered the true burial place of Benjamin. 

Nabi-Yamin-50
Nabi Yamin mosqye turned into a Synagoge

 

3. Nabi Shuayb and Mosque of Hittin (1948)
Hittin was a very special city to muslims. Here Saladdin won the battle against the crusaders that lead to the reconquest of the holy land. He built the city and the mosque in this place where the tomb of Nabi Shuayb happened to be. Nabi Shuayb has always been important to the Druze population of Palestine. Muslims and Druze shared this mosque until Hittin was destroyed by Israel in 1948. The mosque of Hittin was completely destroyed and ruins can still be visited while they gave the mosque of Nabi Shuayb exclusively to the Druze as a payment for them to join the Israeli forces.

PikiWiki_Israel_48150_Nabi_Shuayb
Nabi Shuayb still looking like a mosque from the inside

 

4. Nabi Samt (Judge Samson) (1948)
This shrine contained both the tomb of Samson and his father Manoah. It was destroyed with the city of Sar’a (Zorah). After it was proven that the tomb actually belonged to the two holy people, the ruins of the city has been taken over by Israel as an important archeological site.

5. Al-Nabi Yusha’ (Joshua) (1948)
This was the name of a small village that also housed the tomb of Joshua. The village was under French control during the colonization and therefore, officially, a part of Lebanon. However, the French decided to leave the village to the British who were colonizing Palestine. The British gave Palestine to the Jews which included this originally Lebanese village. And yes, they destroyed it all including the tomb. Ruins can still be found but are rarely visited.

Al_Nabi_Yusha_Mosque
What is left of Nabi Yusha Shrine

 

6. Al-Hussein mosque, Ashkalon (1950)
This site was the holiest to muslims outside of Jerusalem. Here the head of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad was buried. The shrine was said to be the most magnificent building in Ashkalon at the time. This having absolutely no value for Jews, it was the most important mosque for zionists to erase. Today a medical center has been built on the grave.

Sey'd_Hussein_ashkelon
Pilgrims going to the Al-Hussein Shrine in 1943

 

7. Sheikh Eid mosque, Jerusalem (1967)
The destruction of this mosque is part of the story of the destruction of one of the most historical areas in Jerusalem, the Moroccan Quarter. This quarter of Jerusalem dates back to Saladdin’s era and the Sheikh Eid Mosque was the biggest and most prominent in this quarter. The whole quarter was destroyed in order to make room for a big square where 200.000 Jews could stand in front of the Buraq Wall (Wailing wall). The residence got 15 minutes warning to leave their houses before the demolishing. Those who did not leave, were killed by the bulldozers wrecking their walls down. 

Moroccan quarter
The Moroccan quarter. I cannot believe I actually stood there just right there not knowing what thriving life has been here once.

 

8. Al Buraq mosque, Jerusalem (1967)
This mosque was also destroyed during the raze on the Moroccan Quarter. This mosque however, was the second most holy to muslims in Jerusalem. It was built where muslims believe that prophet Muhammad tied his divinely sent horse (the Buraq). One of the leaders behind this demolition said “”Why shouldn’t the mosque be sent to Heaven, just as the magic horse did?”. The basement of the mosque, I believe, is still accessible today. 

9. Al-Khadra Mosque, Nablus (2002)
The Nakba never really ended. So I have included a very historical mosque that was destroyed not long time ago. This mosque was built on the holy site where Prophet Jacob cried after believing Joseph had been killed. The mosque is also named “Sadness of our Lord Jacob”.

Nablus is a large city belonging to the Palestinians on the West Bank. In 2002, Israel razed the city and their bulldozers destroyed countless UNESCO heritage sites including this mosque and Abd Al-Hadi Palace.

10. Siksik Mosque, Jaffa (1948)
This mosque is one of the examples of how they used mosques to other purposes after conquering land. This mosque was first turned into a Bulgarian restaurant, then a nightclub and then a warehouse for a plastic factory. And this is the fate of many mosques and churches as well in the bigger cities.

Maybe at some point I will research the churches and do a blog post about those too. And of course, there are countless more holy sites I did not include. There are also palaces, archeological sites, hamams and historical city centers that were completely destroyed that I did not include here. Long story short: thousand years of heritage was destroyed in this country, but ruins remain for us to go and explore which I would love to have the chance to do.

Read More »

Top 10 Christian festivals to experience

We are approaching Christmas very fast but unfortunately this beautiful tradition has become more of a celebration of capitalism than actual Christianity. However, there are places and festivals around the world that gets to the inner core of the beautiful religion of Christianity and I thought I would share some of my favorite must experience Christian festivals around the world:

  1. Christmas tree lighting
    Place to be: Bethlehem, Palestine
    Time to be next year: December 24, 2019
    What is a better place to witness the celebration of the birthday of Jesus rather than in his very own birth city? The lightning of the Christmas tree is a huge event where the Christian Palestinians count down in the Arabic language for midnight to light up the tree.
    H
  2. Semana Santa
    Place to be: Granada, Spain
    Time to be next year: April 14, 2019 (easter week)
    I have witnessed this festival myself. Large parades with people dressed like something coming from the Ku Klux Klan or the inquisition. However, this ceremony is held to repent for the sins you have forsaken the last year and to acknowledge the sacrifice of Jesus. Many people would exhaust themselves and walk it every day bare footed. The festival is best celebrated in Granada, but most Spanish and specially Andalucian cities will have it as well.

    20170411_174318
    Semana Santa parade in Spain
  3. Crusifixation
    Place to be: San Fernando, Philippines
    Time to be next year: April 19, 2019 (easter)
    On the same track as Semana Santa people come here to recall the passion of the christ and experience a similar hardship. Men and women come here voluntarily to be crucified for real. It’s so admirable how much love and passion they have to actually letting nails go through their palms and hang there for hours.
    a
  4. Mescal Festival
    Place to be: Adis Ababa, Ethiopia
    Time to be next year: September 27, 2019
    This is a very unique celebration of the supposed finding of the “true cross”. It is said to be given to an emperor of Ethiopia and thus this is a huge celebration there.
    a
  5. Day of the Dead
    Place to be: Janitzio Island, Mexico
    Time to be next year: November 2, 2019
    This is actually a very interesting festival mixing Christianity with native Indian religion. It is celebrated in most places in Mexico but should be most original on the above mentioned island.
    a
  6. Santa Claus Village
    Place to be: Rovaniemi, Finland
    Time to be next year: December, 2019
    This is not exactly a festival but every year this park opens for visitors and I can imagine it really will feel like Santa Claus’s toolshop up there in the cold north.
    a
  7. White smoke
    Place to be: The Vatican City
    Time to be: Unknown
    This even does not need an introduction. We all know how a pope is chosen and watching white smoke from the Sistine Chapel is just historical!
    a
  8. Race of the Candles
    Place to be: Gubbio, Italy
    Time to be next year: May 15, 2019
    I do not know much about this festival other than celebrating some saints, but it does sound fun!
    a
  9. Salto del Colacho
    Place to be: Burgos, Spain
    Time to be next year: June 23, 2019
    Another south European festival. It is hard to understand where all those ideas come from but this one is probably about cleansing babies of sins and ensure them protection. Someone will play the devil and jump over new born babies. This might even be a dying tradition due to criticism from the Vatican saying only baptism can cleanse the sins.
    a
  10. Mardi Gras
    Place to be: Binche, Belgium
    Time to be next year: March 3, 2019
    Before the fasting period for the Christians starts, the Belgian Christians go out celebrating the last day with an enormous feast and a very fun parade in the city of Binche.
    a

In addition, there are many many other festivals to be mentioned. However, I tried not to include some of those ruined by capitalism already like Saint Patricks day. However, I have not been to all of the above yet, so I am yet to be surprised 🙂

Also remember, no matter what religion you have or none at all these traditions are fascinating to witness. The same goes for any other religion out there, and I might do a similar list for Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism very soon. Would it interest you?