Visiting during Ramadan

By Stephen Addison
This item appears on page 14 of the November 2018 issue.

People shopping for food in Meknes' medina a few days before the start of Ramadan. Photo by Stephen Addison
Only after my wife, Paula, and I booked our May 2018 Moroccan trip did I discover that most of our trip would occur during the holy month of Ramadan.

The timing of Ramadan varies each year, since the Islamic Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar. In 2018, Ramadan ran from May 16 to June 14 (it will be 10 days earlier in 2019); we were in Morocco May 12-21. The schedule for Ramadan can be a day earlier in the US.

During Ramadan, almost all Muslims are expected to fast from before sunrise until sunset. Only two meals are eaten: suhoor, before dawn, and iftar, at sunset. Rules for the fast are strict; even water cannot be consumed. Muslim travelers on long trips can defer fasting during Ramadan but are expected to make up for it by fasting later in the year.

Of course, non-Muslims are not subject to these rules, but discretion is a good idea. We limited eating and drinking in highly visible areas during the period of fasting.

Perhaps the most unexpected impact of Ramadan was the time change. As in much of the Northern Hemisphere, Morocco switched to daylight saving time earlier in the year. Early in the morning of Sunday, May 13, however, Morocco switched back to standard time for five weeks.

For those who were fasting, the positive impact of this change was that their evening meal could begin "earlier" (between 7 and 8). The downside was that the first meal of the day needed to be finished by about 5 a.m.

For us, the time change was terrific. We got an extra hour of sleep during our first night in Morocco — much appreciated after our transatlantic flight! The time change also meant that Morocco was only four hours ahead of home time, reducing our jet lag.

In the days leading up to Ramadan, we observed lots of people shopping for food, perhaps for pre-Ramadan meals. Once Ramadan began, we noticed that traffic almost vanished, and it got very quiet in the last half-hour before the fast was broken. That was a good time to take a walk through the city.

During the hot afternoons, we observed a few heated arguments, which our guide attributed to stress from fasting, especially from the resulting dehydration.

We departed Morocco before the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of Ramadan, so we missed the associated celebration.

Ramadan's primary impact on us was that many dining venues were closed, and some businesses operated with reduced hours. We still were able to find suitable restaurants that were open, so it wasn't a problem. However, it was difficult to not feel guilty when being served by cooks and waiters who couldn't eat or drink. The local people were gracious and repeatedly told us not to worry about this, but still….

Our Ramadan experiences in Morocco may not have been what would be experienced in other Islamic countries. According to Wikipedia, the participation rate is lower in Central Asia, Southeast Europe and Iran than elsewhere.

Charlotte, NC