Some practical information
In the cities, everything is closed in the mornings of Ramadan, and some shops start opening from late morning to the middle of the afternoon. Coffee shops and restaurants are closed during the day. Some international fast-food restaurants remain open for parents to take their children, and also for women to eat. Why women? Well, during their menstruation days, Muslim women are relieved from praying and fasting, so it is acceptable that a woman sits in one of these restaurants to have lunch, as long as she is inside the restaurant and not in a terrace. You would indeed notice that Moroccan law prohibits Moroccans from eating in public during Ramadan. This law does not apply to non-Moroccans, and Moroccans usually tolerate that non-Muslims eat in public. However, we recommend to our volunteers not to do so as a mark of respect to the local people, and so as not to attract any unwanted attention. The locals will really appreciate.
At the moment of the sunset, as all Moroccans are sitting around the table to break the fast, there is total emptiness and silence in the streets. If you happen to live anywhere where there is a balcony or a roof, do not hesitate to contemplate this amazing moment.
Usually one hour, at least, after the F'tour, streets retrieve a social life. Many people would go to the mosque, and many others will go out for a walk or a coffee. After the Tarawih prayer is over, it is not rare that all of this beautiful people all gather in the streets, having a stroll, sitting on benches, wandering here and about, having coffee, soda or ice cream! Streets remain busy until late at night. You would notice among families and colleagues that playing card games is very popular during Ramadan, and so is the loyal watching of Egyptian series on TV.
With the stress of urban lifestyle, Moroccan city dwellers during Ramadan can get pretty nervous. Although it is a religious obligation to refrain from anger in general, and during Ramadan in particular, you would notice that anger is never far behind. You may notice some fights and cursing in the streets, especially in the afternoons and while making a queue. The reason behind this is probably that a large portion of the urban male population is addicted to tobacco smoking and/or to coffee; and you can tell!
Let's move to a nicer topic: FOOD! There are some foods and meals that are specific to Ramadan in Moroccan cuisine, do not miss them! However use with caution, and if you are planning on trying a fast day, rely on fibre food, lots of liquids, proteins, and veggies and fruits; although all of the following is delicious, it is not necessarily the healthiest type of food to have everyday along with the fasting! But let's forget about the rules and stimulate our papillae's imagination!
Schpekia: the queen of F'tour! It is a thin paste flavoured with saffron, musk, cinnamon and other subtle spices, shaped in a sophisticated manner and deep fried in oil, dipped in honey and dotted with sesame seeds.
Sellou or S'fouf: an ancient and very sophisticated recipe consisting of preparing flour with a mixture of sugar, anise, butter, walnuts, almonds and sesame seeds through a long process of grilling and dry frying. Sellou or S'fouf is usually served after the f'tour with café latté or tea, very dear to Moroccans. It is also a good meal to have for S'hour.
Zammita: it is like Sellou or S'fouf but much richer in ingredients, including a huge variety of seeds and grains, spices and herbs, and homogenized into a paste with butter, olive oil or argan oil, depending on regions. It is eaten with the hands and usually served cut into pieces. Zammita is energy on a plate.
Harira is the unavoidable Moroccan soup that makes of a F'tour a F'tour! Without Harira, most Moroccan would tell you, there is no F'tour! Harira is a thick soup made of tomatoes, chickpeas, parsley, celery, rice or vermicelli, small pieces of meat, sometimes egg, and other spices. What makes Harira thick is the use of flour. Harira is not recommendable to have every day as it is very hard to digest. Although Moroccans love it very much, more and more families have Harira twice or three times during the whole month of Ramadan, and replace it with healthier and lighter vegetables' soup. It is a wise decision!
Well, here you are now all prepared to spend Ramadan in Morocco!
Ramadan is coming in a few days (Friday or Saturday), and with its advent comes a very special lifestyle!
Muslims all over the world follow a moon calendar for their religious life, while the sun calendar known as Gregorian, is the official calendar followed by all institutions internationally.
Just like in the sun calendar, there are twelve months in the moon calendar, also known as Hijri calendar, because the accounting of the years of Islamic history started with the exodus (Hijra) of Muslims from Mecca to Medina, some 1433 years ago. Yet, it is important to note that the twelve months of the moon year are anterior to the advent of Islam and were used by Arab tribes in the whole peninsula in ancient times.
The holy month of Ramadan is the 9th month of the moon year. Whoever sees the first croissant of the moon of Ramadan shall start a month of fasting until the 1st croissant of the following month, Shawwal, when the "Aid Al Fitr" of breaking the fast is celebrated.
The fasting starts from the very first lights of dawn to the sunset. During this whole period, women and men who have reached puberty observe a strict fasting, refraining from food, liquids, cigarettes for the smokers, and sexual intercourse for the married couples. There is a behavioural part of fasting which should be observed all year long but with more focus and care during the month of Ramadan, as a preparation and practice for the rest of one's life, which is, refraining from anger, envy, laziness and any other negative thought.
Spirituality & lifestyle
When the sun disappears, the call of the sunset prayer announces time to break the fast and pray. Moroccan families gather together around a meal called F'tour, usually composed of milk and dates, a soup, boiled eggs, Moroccan pancakes and pastries. Some families would serve dinner some time after the F'tour. Some people would have F'tour and dinner altogether in one long meal that can easily last for an hour. Later in the night, some time before the call of the dawn prayer, many Moroccan families wake up to have a meal called "S'hour", usually composed of dates, milk, bread, cheese, pancakes or any other leftovers from dinner. People take this opportunity to drink as much water as possible!
During Ramadan, and starting from the first day of this holy month, begins a ritual prayer that takes place every evening at the mosque. Thousands of people gather in the mosques all over the country to perform these prayers known as "Tarawih". They are not compulsory but do attract a lot of believers. Sometimes, the space inside the mosque is not enough to house all the believers, so do not be surprised to see rugs and carpets laid on the floor surrounding a mosque, offering a clean ground for people to pray. During these prayers, the Imam (a person who is in charge of leading the prayers) recites the whole of the Qur'an in order, reciting an equal part each day, so as to end it up by the end of Ramadan. Indeed, Ramadan is to the Muslims the month when the noble Qur'an was revealed, so this revelation is celebrated by recitation of the Qur'an, religious reading as well as contemplative reading, and other forms of worship such as prayers and the utterance of the names and attributes of Allah.
The 27th night of Ramadan is commonly agreed by Muslims to be the "Night of Destiny", "Laylat Al Qadr" or the night when the Qur'an was revealed. During this night, many Moroccans (and Muslims in general) observe a long night of prayer and meditation, some of them staying at the mosque or praying at their homes the whole night, having some naps now and then, and of course, eating from time to time. In fact, the exact date of the "Night of Destiny" is unknown; as all what is known about it is that it takes place on a day of the last ten days of Ramadan. Therefore, some people would do the night prayers and meditations during the whole of the last ten nights of Ramadan. You got it! Ramadan is a special month of worship and spiritual life, and it can easily be noticed if you are in Morocco or in any other Muslim country/community in the world.
Generally during Ramadan, Moroccans do a lot of charity, and it is common to see people distributing F'tour to the needy. In imperial cities, an old custom still persists. A man would go into every street some time before dawn, with a drum, yelling that it is time for S'hour, so that people could wake up to eat their last meal of the day before the call of the dawn prayer announces time to start the fasting. Usually, on the first day of Shawwal when Muslims celebrate "Aid Al Fitr", people would give specific charity for that day, and they will not forget these brave men who stride the streets of the city waking up people for S'hour without demanding any tribute in return. A fair worldly retribution!
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