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 Travel World Cup 2018

Alongside the Fifa World Cup 2018 I have conducted a little competition of my own that I called the Travel World Cup. Here I paired the same countries competing for the Fifa Trophy with the each other, but instead of playing football I was asking a number of people where they would like to go the most.

The rules were simple:

I show a number of people 3 pictures of each country, and they vote for which one they would like to visit the most.

For the group stage matches, I gave points like the following:

  • If a country won the vote with more than 55%: 3 points
  • If the votes came out between 45% – 55 % for each: 1 points for each
  • If the country lost the vote with less than 45%: 0 points

The number of participants varied from match to match but was in average 122 participants.

The same 32 countries competed within the same 8 groups as in the Fifa World Cup. The knock-out phase was also accordingly – however, with the winners of the Travel World Cup group stage instead.

Expectations

Of course there is no World Cup without trying to guess the outcome beforehand. Just like you have an idea that Brazil is a good football team, you also have an idea about which countries people would rather visit.

But to have more clarity I did a survey to see in which continents I should expect the best travel countries to be. Here I paired up the regions and asked where people would rather go backpacking.

Latin America 48 % | 52 % Europe

Australian continent 65 % | 35 % Central Asia

North Africa & Middle East 68 % | 32 % Sub-Saharan Africa

Basically this told me about which countries I should not expect to win. Here Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa clearly did not do well.

Any of the remaining regions I expected to do well. Specially Europe, that has some of the most “traditional” favorites for people who has not travelled much. For example, who haven’t heard someone say he would love to visit Paris or Rome or Greece?

My experience is that people are often very concerned with safety while traveling and believe most of what the media is telling about a country. And thus I thought the middle eastern and south american countries would finally lose. My top 4 expectations were: France, Switzerland, Australia and Japan.

The voters:

In average 122 people votes for every match. The maximum amount of votes was 179 for the Argentina-Iceland match. The lowest was 28 votes in the Croatia-Nigeria match.

Depends on where the voters come from it might have a big influence on the outcome. The distribution was as follows:

Where people are from

Another influential factor is how well traveled the voters are. Well basically the voters are you guys, and being on a travel blog already means you have some experience and knowledge about countries.

The voters were also very well traveled. In average, you guys have traveled 13 countries.

And the winner is:

Here it comes.. but if you are interested in more statiscs and analysis you can read the paragraphs after:

Winner is: ICELAND

Winners2

2nd place: Australia
3rd place: Japan

Power ranking:

  1. Iceland
  2. Australia
  3. Japan
  4. Brazil
  5. Morocco
  6. Spain
  7. Mexico
  8. Colombia
  9. Argentina
  10. England
  11. Switzerland
  12. Tunisia
  13. Russia
  14. Denmark
  15. Sweden
  16. Egypt
  17. Costa Rica
  18. Panama
  19. Peru
  20. France
  21. South Korea
  22. Germany
  23. Uruguay
  24. Portugal
  25. Poland
  26. Croatia
  27. Iran
  28. Belgium
  29. Nigeria
  30. Saudi Arabia
  31. Senegal
  32. Serbia

All the results:

Group stage:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Brackets:

Brackets

 

Analysis:

The surprises

Let us have a look at the many surprises of this game:

  1. The biggest surprise for me was seeing Iceland win it all! Beating out great travel destinations like Morocco, Denmark, Croatia, Argentina, Japan and Australia. This was a surprise for me, because I do not find Iceland more interesting than so many other places but I guess the northern light has its appeal.
  2. The second big surprise was that France lost big time. It lost all of it’s matches but getting 1 point against Denmark by scoring 48 %.
  3. Colombia is one of the countries you always hear is so dangerous. However, it made it to the quarter finals only beaten by Brazil. This is a huge surprise and made me happy to know that people are not getting afraid of visiting anymore.
  4. Only 2 European countries made it to the quarter finals: Spain and Iceland. I thought Europe was much more popular.
  5. The 4 semi finalists came from each their continent!

Other things I personally found disappointing:

  1. All African countries was eliminated quickly. Morocco made it to the quarter finals, however Egypt lost early to Spain – in my world totally not understandable even though I love Spain!
  2. Iran only received 1 point. Totally underrated Iran!
  3. Serbia being the least attractive travel country of all 32.

Emotions

Well.. it is no secret that I have favorite countries of my own. You can check out my lists of favorite places I have been to and not been to here and here. Therefore, I have been really disappointed with some of the results.

How can Egypt not make it futher than the Round of 16? It should be the number one travel destinations based on quantifying attractions. I mean, the biggest amount of history and archeology – not only related to the Old Egyptians but everything from Whale fossils in the Sahara desert to the amazing Mamluk’s mosques. Also it has borders to 2 different seas and thereby many beautiful beaches. Not to mention the only remaining Wonder of the World – the Pyramids!

Also it is really hard to understand how Iceland can be more popular than culturally unique countries like Japan or enormous countries like Brazil and Australia. Don’t get me wrong, Iceland is beautiful and also has some unique natural sights like the geysers, however most of what you find there can also be found in Norway, Sweden and most interestingly Greenland. The last I would have seen win it all but not Iceland. In anyway – Congratulations to this small but extremely competitive country!

Why did Iceland win?

This got me thinking a little about why Iceland won. There is a statistical logic to it:

Europe was one of the continents voted very popular to backpack in. However, because most of the voters were Europeans they probably have visited most of the “common” European countries already. Iceland, however, is in the outskirts of Europe and is often forgotten and hard to reach. It is still Europe though, so very popular and the only country not visited so it got all the European votes as well.

Of course this is just a statistical explanation, but of course Iceland is a legit interesting place to visit. It’s uniqueness is undeniable and so it deserves to win!

Here are some of the comments for why Iceland was chosen in the final game:

“Iceland intrigues me so much. I’d love to go in the winter and visit the Blue Lagoon and natural hot springs”

“I chose Iceland because it is so much lesser known than Australia”

“Hard decision! But I have already been to Australia so I want to give Iceland a try”

“It just looks like an unbelievable country, those places you only see in TV”

“I want to see the Northern Light!”

How people perceived the question had a big influence

There is a big difference in how the voters perceived the question: “Which country would you rather visit?”

I have seen people from the country asked for to vote for it just to support their own country. Others have always voted on the opposite country than their own because why would you visit a country you live in?

Others have probably perceived the question as “which country is best to travel in?” so they voted for that even if they have already visited and seen it all.

It is hard to avoid these differences in how people vote. Let me know how you perceived it in the comments and if there is anything to do to ensure alignment in the perception for next time!

Next tournament?

Is it gonna be in 4 years? Or should I do it more often with other countries? Maybe some that doesn’t necessarily make it to the FIFA Football World Cup? Should I do this every year?

Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed it, enjoyed reading it and how often you want me to do this? Maybe never again? 😛

New blog start up

So I have decided to start up a new travel blog just like everyone else is doing. I hope you will like mine though. I promise it will be different!

I will not do the usual “Travel Guide to XX country”. Instead I will talk about some of the things I learn on my different travels. I will basically do 2 things:

  1. Try to communicate the philosophical experience that travelling is. Basically sharing my thoughts about the world I see.
  2. I will make a lot of lists about interesting things. My favourite places, favourite airlines, favourite anything.

Visiting historical places or significant cultural moments or even outstanding natural sceneries often throws me in a thinking mood. I am not a romantic nor a philosopher, but I like to actually try to decode the world and understand why everything is as it is. If you know me you will know I respect all cultures, all religions and only try to bring the best to the surface.

So another thing I will not do is the usual “10 things to watch out for in XX countries” or “10 most dangerous countries to go to”.

I have been to many countries on such lists and the rule of thumb is that people are just trying to live a happy life no matter the circumstances. If you meet them with interest, they will repay it with kindness. So do not be afraid and come with me on adventures all over the world 🙂

.. and PS: Tell me your honest opinion and thoughts about what I should do here. I am basically a noob :/

PPS: Until the next blog post, you can read my lists of places I want to go and top places I already have been. Find them in the menu in the top or click here (top destinations visited) or here (top wanna go to places). Thank you! 🙂