Home Culture Ramadan Life and Traditions in Morocco

Ramadan Life and Traditions in Morocco

By Khadija El Mary 

Agadir – I often receive emails from friends asking if it is o.k. to visit Morocco during Ramadan, what the celebration means, how long it lasts, and what are its traditions. So, I have decided to talk here about Ramadan in Morocco, hoping to answer these questions. 

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar; it is also the most sacred month of the year. It is the anniversary of the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Mohammed in the Cave of Hira. During Ramadan, Muslims around the world abstain from food, drink, sexual intercourse and tobacco during daylight. It is a celebratory holiday, but has other, deeper spiritual meanings. Ramadan is not just about food and drink, but is an occasion during which Muslims reflect upon their past year’s actions, seek forgiveness for transgressions, purify the soul, refocus on spiritual practice, and help the poor and needy.

When Will Ramadan Take Place?

The fast starts on the first day of the lunar month of Ramadan. Since the Gregorian date changes every year, the first day will likely start about 10-12 days earlier in the next calendar year. Muslims do not agree on the exact date to start the fasting because of the differences between Chiâa and Sunnah. And, some countries start their fasting with Saudi Arabia and others with Iran and Syria, based simply upon political issues. In 2011, the first day of Ramadan began on August 2. In 2012, it started on July 20 or 21, and in 2013, on July 11th or 12th. This year 2014, Ramadan is likely to start in the end of June.

Generally, in Morocco and in many other Muslim countries, the official first day of fasting is based on the moon sighting. However, there are two different thoughts about the locale of the sighting: some believe Ramadan should start at one single moon sighting regardless of where the Muslim lives, whereas others insist that the beginning should be when the moon is sighted in the locality where the Muslim himself lives. In Morocco, Muslims are split on this issue, and there is a group of people called “Ikhwan Muslimine” who always fast one day before the rest of Moroccan Muslims, also celebrating Eid adha one day before. Ironically, the religion that is supposed to strengthen the ties of families, relatives and friends has sometimes been reduced to a spiritual tool by varying religious groups, leading us to separated paths and to the formation of distinctive groups.

Who Must Fast?

Not all Muslims fast during this month, but those who don’t must be specifically exempted. The first exemption is for children. Although the Quran does not specify an age to begin fasting, generally speaking, children start fasting when they reach puberty. But, the age is different between Chiâa and Sunnah, and between the Islamists and social-modern Muslims. Some Islamists-Extremists force their children to fast at an early age, and they will proudly repeat in front of friends and family how the child is a “good Muslim” for doing so. I personally do not agree with starting children at this age and think we need to create a new job, with the title “Ramadan Social Workers!” On the other hand, I do believe it is good to allow the children to experience the fasting of Ramadan so long as their health is not harmed (for example, fasting for a few hours or half a day). Ramadan should be a good childhood memory instead of a painful experience. That way, as children mature, they will more likely embrace their parents’ religious beliefs and understand the meaning of Ramadan, just like many of us did!

Another group exempted from the requirements of fasting is travelers. If a Muslim is traveling, he/she is permitted to break the fast, provided that the missed day or days are made up.

There are also health issues exempting Muslims from fasting. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not fast, since an intermittent schedule of drinking and eating during the day is not healthy for the baby. Also, women menstruating, with postpartum bleeding, and going through menopause are exempt, as well as those who suffer from severe migraines. These exemptions are provided because fasting during Ramadan blood loss frequently results in fatigue, severe headache, stomach ache, dizziness, vomiting, physical weakness and bad mood. Of course, one should make up the missed days when the condition is resolved.

The final category of those Muslims who are not obligated to fast encompasses old people, mentally ill people and people with diabetes or other serious diseases. In general, if a Muslim is suffering from a sickness or takes medication which makes fasting detrimental, he shouldn’t fast. The doctor and common sense should decide.

Food and Its Traditions:

Ramadan means fasting from dawn to sunset, but does not mean “Light Food or Less Cooking.” There are many traditional, rich dishes made especially for Ramadan, which also differ widely from one region to another. Ramadan’s main meal is called “Ftoor” in Darija (“IFTAR” in Arabic), meaning the end of fasting at sunset. Ftoor is a happy, special celebration for families to eat and get-together, listening to the Quran, or to Tarab Andaloussi (Moroccan Classic Music) or to simply chat, share recipes and tell stories. The meal lasts for a couple of hours. Sometimes so many people are in attendance and the food so varied that the meal is served on 3 or 4 tables.

Photo by Morocco World News
Photo by Morocco World News

A few days before Ramadan begins, children become excited, knowing it means less school, exams and homework. More importantly they will get a lot of special and traditional treats, basically a party every night for thirty straight days. Mothers are busy stocking their pantries to have the essential ingredients on hand. If you go to the souk or market a few days before Ramadan, you can see mothers shopping, hustling and bustling about, getting ready to prepare the most popular Ramadan treats in Morocco i.e. Chabakiya, the famous tressed cookies soaked in honey, Krachel, Harira, Briwat, Mini-Bastilla, Salloo, Rziza, Mssamen, Malwi, Baghrir, Harsha etc. One week before Ramadan, Moroccan streets are transformed into Food Workshops and Iron Chef Competitions!

Traditions of Ramadan in Morocco:

“Zowaka”: This is a traditional practice identifying the time of Ftoor in Morocco. An Air Raid Siren (Zowaka {Z O W A K A}) is heard, announcing the end of day’s fasting. This startling, loud sound is followed immediately by the ritual “Adan or Athan,” or “the call to prayer.” This tradition has been replaced by a recorded sound, aired on national TV or Radio.

M'bakhra (incense burner)
M’bakhra (incense burner). Photo by Morocco World News

Lilt Sab3a W3achrin: Called in Quran “Laylat Al-Quadr or Al9adr,” it is the 27th night of Ramadan. The first verses of the Quran were revealed to the prophet Mohammed on this very night, so it is quite special. The first Sura revealed to him was “Surat Al-Alaq:” “Read in the name of your Lord who created…”

During this big family gathering night, children offer gifts to parents and grandparents. The gifts given are usually traditional Moroccan clothes (Kaftan, Jlaba, Charbil, Balgha) or money. On this night, it is also important to perform Tarawih, which are prayers that come after the Isha prayer, performed in pairs. Women usually prefer to pray their Tarawih at home, whereas the men choose the Mosque, taking brief breaks between Tarawih by coming back home for a cup of Moroccan mint tea and spoonfuls of Sellou or Tquawt.

Another particularity that sets “lilt sab7a w3achrin” apart from all other Ramadan nights is a lovely smell in every single house. L’Bkhour (incense) is burned in M’bakhra (incense burner); some call the heavenly scent the “smell of paradise.” The smell can last for few days, especially if L’Bkhour is of high quality. Some say that L’Bkhour coming from Saudi Arabia is the best and the most expensive.

Stars of Lilt Saba w3achrine: The special night of Laylat Al-Quadr is a celebration of children who begin fasting. To celebrate, parents hold a traditional family ceremony after Ftoor meal. It marks the beginning of their upbringing in the Islam faith. With the help of Negafa (a woman who offers stylist and make-up services), the girls wear beautiful make-up, formal Moroccan traditional clothes and gold. Boys wear traditional Jelaba, Fassi hat (the Fez hut), and Balgha. The boys take a short ride on a beautiful horse, usually accompanied by one of the parents. The horse is dressed in beautiful traditional attire, parading the street, followed by a group of traditional musicians performing cheerful music, followed by Zgharit (women roll their tongues and produce this cheerful sound). These horses look stunning and I think they are well schooled to tolerate all what is associated with the drums, dancing and music sound, even seeming to enjoy themselves! This Ramadan event is one of the best childhood moments for every Moroccan!

Nafar, an old Moroccan music instrument
Man to the right playing Nafar, an old Moroccan music instrument. Photo by MWN

Nafar, a volunteer who is a kind of town “Crier”: This is another special, old tradition of Ramadan in Morocco. A Nafar is a kind of town “Crier,” whose task is to walk down the streets playing a special instrument, like a trumpet, or calling people by their family names, to wake them up for the Shoor meal, the last meal before sunrise. A Nafar is usually chosen from the local community and he knows everyone in the neighborhood.

Charities: During the entire month of Ramadan in Morocco, there are many charities, volunteers and mosques throughout the kingdom, who hand out free Ftoor meals to the poor and the needy. In Addition, every muslim, male or female, old or young, is obliged to pay Zakat al Fitr to the poor at the end of Ramadan.

Night Promenade: After the Ftoor meal, most families, including children go out to have fresh air, forget about food and enjoy the rest of the evening. Needless to say, working and school hours are greatly reduced to suit Ramadan schedules.

Greetings: Since Ramadan is the time for celebrations, all Moroccans send greetings and best wishes to their family members, hoping that they have a long and healthy life. A long time ago, greetings were conveyed by family visits one or two days before the starting of Ramadan, talking about Ramadan preparations and enjoying a fresh mint tea with Dwaz-Atay. However, now, many greetings are conveyed in the form of phone calls, text messaging, e-mail, facebook, google, twitter, blogging, etc.

Man serving Moroccan Mint Tea. Photo by Morocco World News
Man serving Moroccan Mint Tea. Photo by Morocco World News

Visiting Morocco During Ramadan:

Most tourists avoid travelling to Morocco during Ramadan. However, if you do come, it is good to know that it is a very special time for majority of Moroccans-Muslims. Not all Moroccans celebrate Ramadan, including Moroccan-Jews, Moroccan-Christians and others who do not fast. In general, Moroccans are very tolerant of non-Muslims eating, drinking and smoking during Ramadan, unlike Saudi Arabia that often threatens to expel those who engage in these activities. In Morocco’s tourist areas, a few restaurants and food stores will be open during the day, but it is respectful to avoid eating and drinking publicly. You can always eat in a hotel during the day without worry.

Ramadan does provide some positives for non-Muslim tourists during the day, especially in the mornings. The streets, markets and souks are less crowded and less busy than usual. The beaches are almost empty because Moroccan-Muslims will not go to the beach while fasting. There are also good flight deals to travel to Morocco during Ramadan; during that time, a five-star hotel for 1 or 2 weeks might not blow your budget.

If you have Moroccan friends, don’t hesitate to ask them to join you for a home cooked Ftoor meal. In is in the traditional Moroccan house that a person will have the best chance to taste the uniquely Ramadan dishes prepared to perfection.

Enjoy your trip in Morocco, celebrating Ramadan! Wishing all of you and your Family a very Blessed Ramadan Mobarak! Ftourkom Mabrouk, as we say in Morocco.

Edited by Ann Smith

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