Ramadan in 2013 will start on Tuesday,
the 9th of July and will continue for 30 days until Wednesday, the 7th of
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Deemed the most holy month of the year, it represents the revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Mohammed. During this month, Muslims all over the world join together in a period of fasting as an act of intensive worship to Allah.
The Qur’an requires that during Ramadan, nothing must pass the lips from sunrise to sunset. This includes both food and water. Those who suffer from illness, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and children are all exempt from participating in Ramadan, but are encouraged to make it up at a later time. Ramadan is seen as a period of cleansing – not just of the body, but of the soul as well. Muslims are to refrain from entering into any sinful or unclean activities, purifying their behavior and only doing good.
Tourists often ask whether or not it is a good idea to travel to Islamic countries during Ramadan. In North Africa, tourists continue to be welcomed with open arms and still enjoy the same sights and places of interest as one would during other months of the year. It’s true that in the hours between sunrise and sunset, life in these countries may seem a bit barren and slow since most Muslims stay home to sleep and enjoy friends and family. However, as soon as the last call to prayer has sounded, the cities come to life!
Every night, Muslims break the fast with a meal called f’tour or iftah. This meal is only the beginning to a night full of food to feast on. After f’tour has been eaten, children can be found playing in the streets and adults out roaming and visiting with neighbors and friends. North African Muslims usually stay up for hours past their typical bedtime to eat and visit with their families. Before sunrise, they will awake to have a meal, and then go right back to bed to get more sleep.
Traveling to North Africa is always an exotic adventure! It is home to a unique culture and people that has formed from years of influence from multiple other countries. The month of Ramadan does not diminish this fact. In fact, it could be argued that Ramadan actually enhances the encounter with the cultures of North Africa. Experiencing this special month in a Muslim setting will give you an added appreciation for the people and their devotion to their religion.
You will not be looked down upon for not participating in Ramadan, though it is important to remember to respect the culture you’re in. Below are some things to remember while traveling in North Africa during Ramadan…
• Many shops open later than usual during this holy month as shop owners try to recover from their late nights of feasting and family. This also includes post offices and banks.
• Some shops and restaurants will often give their employees the month off to spend time with their families, and many of them are closed throughout Ramadan. Nonetheless, the restaurants and shops that cater to foreigners remain open, though it will be hard to find any local Muslims there.
• Don’t walk through the streets of the medina openly snacking or drinking from a water bottle. Try to do these things in private.
• Muslims do not commonly consume alcohol because the Qur’an forbids it. Though liquor shops can be found in North Africa, they are not frequented by the locals and will be closed for the entire month of Ramadan.
• Be aware of how you dress. Modesty is key in North African countries, and is emphasized even more during Ramadan. Stay away from shorts, mini skirts, and bare shoulders.
• There is a large celebration at the end of Ramadan called the Eid al-Fitr. This holiday marks the end of the fast and is accompanied by large feasts with family and friends. It is comparable to the Western celebration of Christmas as many shops, stores, banks, etc. close for the few days before the holiday to accommodate extensive traveling.
• Because families will be traveling during the Eid, it is important to reserve your own local traveling in advance.
• Public transportation continues on a relatively normal schedule. However, it will be practically impossible to find a taxi at the time of the f’tour.
• If you’re invited by a local to join in the breaking of the fast – whether the f’tour or the Eid celebration – take advantage of this offer! There is no better place to experience Ramadan than in the home of a local family!