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.
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  2. Mawlid
    Place to be: Khartoum, Sudan
    Time to be next year: October 28, 2020

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

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    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.

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  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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  9. Durbar Festival
    Place to be: Kano, Nigeria
    Time to be next year: May 23 and July 30

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

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    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.

Getting around Preveza and Lefkada

In the summer 2019, I landed in Preveza Airport (Aktion Airport PVK). It is a small airport, where most visitors have already booked an all inclusive hotel and have a big “charter” bus from different travel agencies sending them to their respective destinations.

However, if you travel on a budget like myself, you might want to know how to get from the airport to Preveza city with public transportation. Likely, you would also be going to Lefkada island from the airport or maybe even have Parga or Athena as a destination. Here is the guide to how you travel to those places from the airport, and how you get around with local transportation in Lefkada Island.

So here is a guide for how to get between Aktion Airport, Preveza, Lefkada, Parga and Athens.

 

From Aktion Airport (PVK) to Preveza:

Preveza is 10 min away with car from the Airport, however, you cannot walk the distance, because it goes through a car only tunnel.

The easiest option is to take a Taxi, which will set you back 25 euros. In my opinion it is not worth the trip, but if you can find few other people to share the ride with, it might be worth it.

By Bus:

There is a bus, that goes from Preveza Airport (PVK) to Preveza Bus Station. The price is 2 euros. When coming out of the airport, walk right to the main road and you will see a bus stop, with this time table on:

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Bus timetable between Preveza and Lefkada. However, the times has changed for the direction to Lefkada. For the updated times read the next section.

If you are going to Preveza, you will have to look at the bottom green time table saying from Lefkas to Preveza Airport.

And be aware, that those times are not the arrival times, but the time of when the bus depart from Lefkada. It takes the bus around 45 min to reach the airport. I will suggest that you add 30 min and start waiting from then. At the airport, you can get food and coffee meanwhile.

Another important aspect: This bus do go to “Preveza Suburban Bus Station”, which is located 30 min walk outside the city center. It does not stop at the city center. If you want the city center of Preveza, you can walk or take a taxi from there, which is way cheaper than from the airport. You can also look for local buses, but these do not drive frequently.

From Preveza or Aktion Airport to Lefkada

If you are at Preveza Bus Station you can take a bus going to Lefkada. The bus will pass by the airport.

If you are at the airport, walk right to the main road when you come out. Here there is a bus stop, which is a bit away from the road. Make sure you stand near the road clear to wave it in, when it comes by.

This is the timetable for the bus for all days of the week. These are all departure times from Preveza Bus Station:

Preveza – Lefkada 6:45 10:00 12:30 15:15 17:15 20:15

It takes 15-20 minutes for the bus to go from Preveza Bus station to Aktion Airport.

From Preveza to Athens and return

There is a bus going from Preveza to Athens every day. It is not necessary to book your ticket before hand, as there normally is space in the bus. However, if you are at the bus station some days prior to your trip to Athens, prebook a ticket. A one way ticket costs 40 euros, or you can buy a return ticket for 60 euros. Online booking is not possible yet, but it will be soon on the following link: 

https://www.ktelprevezas.gr/en/online-tickets/

You can see time tables on the following link:

https://www.ktelprevezas.gr/en/itineraries/athina/

You will arrive at Kefissos bus station in Athens, and from there take bus 51 to the city center. The bus stop for bus 51 is right on the other side of the bus station, so do not walk too much around looking for it elsewhere. Google Maps is not accurate when it comes to bus stations in Athens.

From Preveza to Parga and return

Going to Parga is also possible from Preveza Bus Station. Timetables are on the following link:

https://www.ktelprevezas.gr/en/itineraries/parga/

Going around Lefkada Island

The easiest way to get around Lefkada Island is on a scooter or motorcycle. You can rent one for maximum of 20 euros a day and get it delivered to your own hotel, so you can return it there as well. In this way you can get to see the whole island and visit all the interesting beaches, caves and waterfalls.

Going around Lefkada Island with bus

There are buses that goes around the island, and it is much easier than you fear. The only setback is, that the buses do not go to some of the gems, where you will need to do a long hike or rent a bike to get to your destination. The buses do visit the major and some minor cities on the main road around the island.

At Lefkada bus station you can grab a flyer with the bus times. I have uploaded it here. These are timetables for the summer 2019:

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For updates routes, check out their website here: https://ktel-lefkadas.gr/en/routes/local/

You can pay at the station or on the bus. A good tip is to ask the driver or the ticket collector to stop somewhere along the route, if you know your hotel or your destination is not near a bus stop. They will be open to that.

From Lefkada to Athens or Thessaloniki

As you can see on the flyer above, there are buses going from Lefkada to Thessaloniki and Athens every day and back.

Timetable for buses from Lefkada to Athens and Lefkada – Thessaloniki:

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