Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ramadan in Fez

What does Ramadan mean if you're coming to Fez on holiday?

Fassi women pray at the end of Ramadan

First off, as a tourist you're not expected to fast! As Muslims don't eat, drink or smoke during daylight hours, most cafes turn into sweet shops, selling the sticky confections that people buy to break the fast at the end of day. But this doesn't apply to the tourist cafes and restaurants around Bab Boujloud - they still operate for visitors.

Some restaurants use this time to close down altogether and give their staff an annual holiday. This applies particularly in the Ville Nouvelle at restaurants like The Majestic and Trois Sources. But in the medina, both Mezzanine and F Lounge will be open.

It's impossible to get a taxi between 5 and 6.30pm when people are breakfasting, and probably best not to be walking about in the medina at that time. Anyone else walking around when they should be home eating is probably up to no good! And tempers can fray towards the end of the day ...

Alcohol is not available in the supermarkets and off-licences are closed from three days before Ramadan until three days after the Eid (celebrations at the end of Ramadan). It is available to foreigners in licensed restaurants, but sometimes the bar or restaurant might run out of some drinks.

It's good to be aware that this is a holy month and clothing should be more conservative than usual. Do not eat, smoke or drink on the streets during this time.

Business hours also change, with banks, post offices and shops opening later and closing earlier so that staff can get home in time for f'tour. Often the opening hours displayed outside banks and post offices do not relate to Ramadan.

What's it all about?

The four weeks of the Islamic month of Ramadan are observed by fasting during daylight hours. The aim is to remind Muslims of their commitment to Allah, and as a spiritual purification. Exemption is made for pregnant or breastfeeding women, small children, travellers and the sick. People get excited about it - it's a very special time, when traditional clothes are worn.

The day starts early when people wake before dawn to have breakfast before the first call to prayer. If you're lucky, you might hear the man who comes singing around the medina, knocking on doors to remind people to get up and eat.

At the end of the day, everyone is ready for f'tour, or 'breakfast', which is around 5.30pm, after the late-afternoon call to prayer. Traditionally, the first food to pass the lips is dates and milkshakes; there are also the honey-drenched, almond-paste-filled sweetmeats that are eaten with harira, a tomato and chickpea soup, hard-boiled eggs dipped in cumin and salt and breads, often stuffed with onion and spices. If you'd like to try f'tour, there are some great hole-in-the-wall restaurants along Avenue Chefchaouni in the Ville Nouvelle, near the public gardens. It's a great opportunity to mix with local people, and the meal costs around Dh15.

Then everyone is out on the streets - there are funfairs and markets in the Ville Nouvelle and people saunter along the palm-fringed boulevards, enjoying the fountains. Dinner is served somewhere between 10pm and midnight.

There is more excitement at the end of the month when the new moon is sighted, signalling the end of Ramadan. Morocco is one of the last countries in the world that relies on an actual sighting rather than a moon calendar. And if it isn't seen, then the fast goes one for another day. The celebration at the end of Ramadan is called Eid, and is tone of the biggest events of the Islamic calendar. The holiday lasts three days and shops, banks and offices are closed.

All in all, it's a very interesting time for non-Muslims to come to Morocco. Remember to wish everyone 'Ramadan m'barak' - a blessed Ramadan.


Anonymous said...

I would have thought that Īd al-Kabīr was the biggest event on the Islamic calendar? Īdu l-Fiṭr‎ is sometimes known as the "Smaller Eid" ( Arabic: العيد الصغير ‎) as compared to Īd al-Kabīr that lasts four days and is called the "Greater Eid" ( Arabic: العيد الكبير ‎).

Jillian said...

Alcohol was always available at Label'Vie supermarket in Meknes during Ramadan...but only if you had a foreign passport from a non-Muslim country (you should have seen the anger from my Egyptian friend who tried!)

Helen Ranger said...

Hi Jillian
That used to be the case in Fez, too. But things have changed. Now only hotel owners can buy alcohol during Ramadan, and only from Metro which is a long way out of town. You really need a car for that as Metro's own transport won't take you if you have alcohol in your shopping at any time of year.

Helen Ranger said...

Yes, Anonymous, I think you're right that Id al-Kabir is a bigger event than the Id at the end of Ramadan. I apologise!

Anonymous said...

Is it possible for all guesthouse/hotel owners to purchase alcohol at Metro, or do you need to show that you have an 'alcohol licience'?

Helen Ranger said...

Good point, Anonymous. In my experience, anyone with a Metro card can buy alcohol during Ramadan.

The Lounsbury said...

Last countries to rely on the Eye? Come now, it remains common practice in the Arab world (which generally remains 'conservative' relative to the rest of the Islamic world).

Helen Ranger said...

Well, The Lounsbury, this is what I understand: Tunisia and even the supposedly conservative Saudia Arabia use the moon calendar to decide when Ramadan ends, and no doubt other countries. I remember a few years ago that Eid was celebrated all over the Islamic world except in Morocco, where the moon hadn't been sighted, so Moroccans had to fast for another day. But perhaps there's someone in our blogging community with expert knowledge who can give a definitive answer on this one?

Anonymous said...

You reached the point Helen: indeed, Morocco (and sometimes other countries too) may have to fast for a another day or to celebrate Eid before other countries.

The moon cycle isn't the same around the globe and so, sometimes, Morocco has a one-day Late Ramadan compared to other countries and so, a late Eid too.

Another thing that would be good to know is that Ramadan days aren't fixed like the common months: sometimes it's 28 and others 29.I've also heard of a 30 days but I'm not sure.

Anyway, happy Ramadan everybody ^^

emma@gottakeepmovin said...

I'm heading to Fez curing Ramadan next week - guessing this information is probably still the same even though its a couple of years old? Either way, it is still useful so thanks!

The View from Fez said...

Hi Emma - yes - nothing has changed!

a little lost said...


I read this unsettling account of visiting the medina at Ramadan


I am due to visit on 21st June with my 17 year old daughter, who plans to study there.

I've been to Marrakech at Ramadan without any serious hassle, but this account is worrying as I know Fes is more conservative and I'll have my daughter with me.

Is this a experience of aggression representative for vistors at Ramadan?

The View From Fez said...

Tanks for your comment. I read the article, which seems to be not all accurate/ I have spent Ramadan in Fez for several years and found it to be a fabulously friendly place. The local people are generally welcoming of visitors and the most dangerous ting is TOO MUCH hospitality!

I hope your daughter loves Fez and studying here (where? ALIF, ALC???) She can aways contact us if she has a problem.

Sandy - The View from Fez