When Ramadan approaches in Morocco I’m often asked if I recommend travelling; the doubt is reasonable, as it’s a completely different period to any other, with its advantages and disadvantages. But before answering the question, I think it’s better first to explain what this characteristic celebration consists of (it’ll be fun, don’t worry).
Meaning of Ramadan
Many people tend to synthesize Ramadan into two phrases: starving during the day and bingeing at night. In my opinion, this is a simplification that does little for one of the elements that most represents religion and, by extension, Moroccan culture.
As you know, Morocco is a religious country, and as in every religion there is a constant trend: getting closer to God through the purification of the soul, which has a lot to do with the way we treat others and ourselves. Regardless of your belief, I think you will agree with me in understanding religion as a way of leading life with certain ethics and conscience.
In this sense Ramadan, apart from religious matters, proposes self-discipline, or what is the same: to show yourself that you are capable of living without a series of temptations, that you are capable of overcoming a series of barriers that your circumstances and your own body place in front of you. How many times have you put yourself to the test, for example promising not to be so attentive to the continuous notifications from your mobile phone? That and Ramadan have many similarities.
We can therefore understand Ramadan as an invitation to a conscious effort to improve behaviour and have more self-discipline. And it is not only restricted to food, but also to other temptations that can alter the meditation practiced throughout the day, such as drinking, sexual relations or any type of drug (including tobacco)
But that’s not all it consists of; depending on the region or country, there are also other peculiarities; for example, during Ramadan in Morocco it’s common to offer alms (stressing that you don’t need so much money and that, moreover, you can give it to those who need it most).
So how should the food produced during the night be understood? As a way of celebrating as a family that has been able to pass the test another day.
Beginning of Ramadan in Morocco
To set their religious celebrations, Muslims follow a lunar calendar (11 days shorter than ours), so Ramadan (or any other Muslim date) can happen at any time of year (imagine spending it in the middle of summer). You can find out more about the Moroccan calendar at this link.
It begins with the new moon, from the last day of the eighth month of the Islamic calendar, but until a few days before it is not known exactly because, although it can be anticipated through the use of astronomy, the tradition marks that it is the imam, observing the sky to identify the first sign of a crescent moon, which indicates its beginning, which causes a margin of error of approximately two days.
For example, in 2019 it took place from May 5 to June 3. And since there is an 11-day lag with respect to our calendar, it is most likely that in 2020 Ramadan will take place from April 23 to May 23, or even two days earlier or later.
Travelling To Morocco In Ramadan: Advantages And Disadvantages
I will tell you about my personal experience after visiting the country many times during this period.
What is most striking is that everything slows down: people go in slow motion and there is hardly any traffic during the day (except for an hour before and after the fasting obligation has ended). This has a great advantage, and is that the “sporadic guides” (those who kindly offer to help tourists, tipping them afterwards) disappear, so you can walk around much more calmly and without the need to say “no” at every moment.
One drawback is that it is more complicated to have lunch in the street; when fasting, most people tend to keep their kitchens closed during the day; that is why it will be necessary to resort to tourist-oriented restaurants in the most emblematic places. You will therefore have no choice but to eat food that is probably less authentic and certainly more expensive.
One alternative is to have a good breakfast, and stock up on some food (e.g. some drink, a sandwich and a piece of fruit) for a snack throughout the day. But try to be discreet: keep in mind that not only can they not eat, but they cannot even drink water. And, as you understand, it must not be pleasant for you to do so in front of them, even if they do not acknowledge it out of kindness.
Besides, as you have been able to deduce, the fact of being subjected to such strict self-discipline for days causes them to be in a bad mood, and it is common to see them arguing. So if you happen to have a problem with someone, my advice is to take a breath for three seconds and say goodbye politely to avoid conflict.
Fortunately, as the sun goes down, the mood will blossom into a great party when the sirens sound to signal the end of the fast. Then they take the opportunity to drink a fruit juice, accompanied by dates, and then go to the mosque to pray. Later they return home to eat with the family and go out to the street, celebrating that they have been able to overcome the test one more day; this becomes an anthill of people, with the cafeterias full and the children playing in the street, … everyone sharing a great joy.
And during a day of Ramadan, what happens to the shops and monuments of interest? They follow more or less their usual opening hours, but with nuances: if the shops are very focused on the local customer, they may have reduced opening hours and rarely close on certain days. Monuments of interest and museums will not be influenced or, at most, will close a couple of hours earlier.
Some people, for temporary personal reasons, cannot follow Ramadan totally or partially (for example, they have to make a long journey and must eat and drink). In such cases, they are allowed to recuperate them later.
It goes without saying that those people who due to health problems, whether temporary or permanent, simply cannot fast (sick people, children, the elderly, pregnant women or those with their periods, etc.) do not even need to recover.
As well as being a way of proving to yourself that you can live without depending on what, Ramadan is also usually a time that Moroccans use to recapitulate all the bad things that have happened to them throughout the year and turn the page. You don’t have to wait until Ramadan to take advantage of this opportunity: if someone, for whatever reason, wants to fast any day of the year, they can do so.
Moroccans don’t just like to talk about the religious or spiritual virtues of Ramadan, but also the biological ones: they think it’s good for the body to subject it to a severe fast for a month a year, and it seems that they’re right.
Smokers become particularly irascible during Ramadan. Those of you who were once regular smokers and who managed to leave it behind (my sincere congratulations) know that it’s common to gain some weight, as abstinence is compensated for by drinking and eating more. Imagine that all of a sudden you can’t smoke from sunrise to sunset, nor eat or drink. So please, if you know any smokers, be particularly diligent with them (and if you are smokers, try not to smoke near anyone).
The question that you will all ask at this point in the article I think is obvious: is it worth travelling during Ramadan or is it better to avoid it?
I think it’s extremely difficult and unfair to answer this question in a clear-cut way because, as you’ll have gathered, Morocco becomes a completely different country in Ramadan. Is this a time to go to regularly? It’s a question of taste: I’ve got friends who only want to go during Ramadan because they appreciate the peace and quiet you can feel, and others who prefer to avoid it; what I’d certainly recommend is living the experience at least once.