Ramadan in Morocco is a unique experience for travelers. For many, this time of year is frightening, as the normal rhythm of life in Morocco stops. But after finding out more about Ramadan, travel at that time can become a special holiday.
Ramadan is the 9th month in the Islamic lunar calendar, during which the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. For Muslims, it is a month of fasting – eating, drinking, making love, and smoking is not allowed from sunrise to sunset. At the center of Ramadan there are spiritual things – praying more, helping the poor, thinking over one’s life and, of course, getting closer to Allah. Fasting seeks to show all Muslims what it means to be poor in a modern world, where not everyone has something to eat.
Ramadan dates in Morocco in 2020: April 23-May 22
However, most Muslim cultures focus on food during Ramadan, and iftar / ftour after sunset (around 7 pm) is a big celebration for everyone. As the sunset approaches, most local restaurants open their doors wide, serving traditional iftar / ftour breakfast meals of Ramadan. Some people sit down in front of their food plates and enduring the smell, patiently wait for the prayers announcing the end of the day of Ramadan. I will admit, even not being Muslim, I felt uncomfortable eating before the official end of the day of fasting, so I would patiently watch my harira soup plate sometimes for a good ten minutes. And then, voilà, the whole city is instantly empty, with fasting people exhausted from the heat of the day running off home or to the restaurants, and the cleverest ones immediately filling their stomachs with delicious food.
In Morocco, traditional iftar / ftour food for the end of the Ramadan day is the traditional Harira soup, eaten with boiled eggs, dates, Msmen Moroccan pancakes or sweets like Chebakia. It is a pastry reminiscent of our skruzdėlynas, rich in honey and often sesame seeds. Chebakia is sold on every corner during Ramadan, but I find it too sweet for my taste.
During Ramadan, many shops are closed, and if they are open, that is only in the evening. Of course, this does not apply to tourist shops and cafes, most of which are in Marrakesh’s Medina. It is better not to plan any significant work, like home reconstruction, during Ramadan because local workers simply will not find the strength to do it. And that is no wonder, given that they give up food and water at the temperature of +45 degrees Celsius and get up before dawn for fajr prayer and an early breakfast.
Fasting is optional for children under the age of 16, nursing mothers, pregnant women, the sick, women on their menstruation period, hard-working Muslims who would otherwise be unable to support their families, or traveling people. All those with justifiable reasons to eat during Ramadan may fast after Ramadan, thus redeeming their eating.
The last 10 days of Ramadan are the holiest days for Muslims because that is when the Prophet Muhammad received the first ayahs (verses of the Qur’an). The most significant night is called Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Power, Night of Destiny), which took place on the night of June 21, 2017, in Morocco. In the last days of Ramadan, Muslims pray not only during the day but also during the night, until 5 am.
The end of Ramadan is announced by the young moon appearing in the sky. Then begins the three-day celebration of Eid al-Fitr, during which everyone makes up for the month of fasting, in the main squares there are free lunches or other kinds of help offered to the poor. This celebration begins early in the morning, just before sunset, when Muslim men gather for common prayer. At the same time, women prepare a special breakfast of Eid al-Fitr, which usually consists of Moroccan pancakes (baghrir or melwi). After breakfast, families gather together, drink tea, children are dressed in new clothes, and adults wear traditional Moroccan clothing.
Tips for traveling to Morocco during Ramadan
(it is said, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, so during Ramadan, try to keep local traditions as well)
- find out what Ramadan is;
- most local cafes and restaurants close for the month of Ramadan. However, tourist restaurants and cafes are open at regular hours.;
- all tours, transfers, and tour guides are available during Ramadan, so don’t be afraid of being stuck in a hotel;
- local and intercity buses and trains run during Ramadan;
- in smaller Moroccan cities, most local cafes and restaurants will be closed and open only in the evening. So maybe arrange your lunch in advance. Usually, drivers know places that are open for tourists for lunch during Ramadan;
- try not eat or snack on the streets in public during the day and, if possible, do not smoke. You can do this at home or inside restaurants or hotels. But don’t be afraid to drink water in the city, no one will look at you strangely;
- if you are traveling as part of a tour during Ramadan, during the day, do not offer them snacks or water. Once, during Ramadan, I was traveling with a group of tourists. They all bought ice cream and ate it in front of the driver, having forgotten it was Ramadan. It was June, the temperature was around +40 degrees Celsius;
- a very important moment during Ramadan is the iftar breakfast, which starts at sunset. Because this is the first meal of the day for Muslims, everyone gather in one place to eat. So once the iftar starts, don’t be surprised if you have to wait for the staff of the cafe to finish their meals first. Tour drivers also always try to get to places of accommodation before the start of the iftar to make it to dinner on time;
- during Ramadan, alcohol is sold strictly to foreigners ONLY. All liquor stores require you to show your passport (even foreigners) without exception. Muslims are not allowed in the bars during Ramadan, so local bars are closed for the month.
EID IN MOROCCO
Another important Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, begins in the fall, 40 days after the end of Ramadan, and is dedicated to honoring Abraham, whom God ordained to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. As we all know, at the last moment God told Abraham not to kill his son but to sacrifice a lamb instead. This celebration of sacrificing rams is something reminiscent of our Christmas. Moroccans celebrate the three days off by sacrificing a ram (sometimes a goat) in the morning and making a variety of lamb dishes. Families gather together, visit neighbors, everyone expects gifts. So if you have a business in Morocco, get ready to reward your employees with gifts on Eid al-Adha.
This celebration can be a real test for the faint-hearted travelers and especially vegetarians. During one of Eid al-Adhas, I was staying in an area away from the center of Marrakesh, where Moroccans kept their rams, which they had bought in the evening, on their balconies. Throughout the night, the air was filled with roars of the animals anticipating their fate. The rams were slaughtered the next morning in homes or on terraces. Rams’ heads were baked right on the street during the day. They say head meat soup is a delicacy, which I did not dare to taste.
NEW YEARS IN MOROCCO
By the way, the Islamic calendar is completely different from ours. According to Wikipedia, the first day of the Muslim New Year marks the Hijra– when in 622 CE, the Prophet Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina, where he established the first Muslim state.
Our year 2019 is the year 1440, according to the Islamic calendar. However, in Morocco, the New Year is a less significant and less celebrated day.
E-GUIDE TO MARRAKECH (155 PAGES TRAVEL MAGAZINE)
Official guidebooks about Marrakech forces you to go where everyone else is. Instead, let me be your Marrakech digital insider! In my 155 pages magazine, I mixed hi-so and down-home options to get an understanding of Marrakech dynamics. As well, you will find some history facts, maps, guide to public transport, shopping, alcohol selection etc.