Updated: May 27, 2020
The Covid-19 Pandemic has made for a very different Ramadan experience across the Muslim world. In Morocco, some of the most difficult losses are the ability to visit family, to go to the mosque for prayers, or go out in the evenings.
While there's a lot of things missing this year, many aspects of Ramadan in Morocco remain intact including the feelings, the food, the tv specials, and the spirit of generosity.
Despite the pandemic, many aspects of Ramadan in Morocco remain intact including the atmosphere, the food, the tv specials, and the spirit of generosity.
The Ramadan atmosphere isn't exactly the same this year in Morocco since we’re in a state of health emergency due to the pandemic. The government still encourages everyone to stay home as much as possible. Theoretically one should only go out for necessary errands and only if wearing a mask. There's a strict curfew that prevents anyone from leaving home between the hours of 7pm and 5am. Despite the pandemic, these hallmarks of Moroccan Ramadan are still going strong:
Night is the new day
Since Muslims fast from sunup to sundown, the rhythm of life during Ramadan changes noticeably. Those who can sleep all morning and into the afternoon. Before sunset, there's a flurry of activity as everyone runs their errands for the day in a few hours. Sunset is one of the quietest times of day, with everyone at home preparing for ftour. Nights are louder than normal and still full of feasting and fun. This year you'll still hear your neighbors outside socializing late into the night (although you may also hear them being chased by the police!)
Despite the curfew, in most neighborhoods the niffar still comes around at 2am beating a drum to remind everyone to eat one last time before sunrise. (If you're not observing Ramadan, or if you have to work during the day, earplugs and white noise machines are a good idea.)
Crowded souks and supermarkets
Ftour (breaking the fast) is one of the essential aspects of Ramadan. People spend most of their pre-sunset waking hours food shopping and preparing ftour. During a normal year, supermarkets close before sunset but this year the shopping hours are even more constricted. In my neighborhood, the police go around at 2pm to remind all the produce vendors to close. This is a little inconvenient if you just woke up at 1!
In Morocco a large percentage of people, young and old, still wear traditional clothing on a regular basis, especially during Ramadan. It's normal for women to wear djellabas every day during Ramadan and to buy a new djellaba or have one sewn for the Eid.
Food and Family
Moroccans primarily spend Ramadan with family and ftour is almost always eaten at home with the family. That's why this year is extra difficult for those living far from family, since intercity travel has been suspended.
Last year I bounced around from house to house enjoying ftour with different friends and their families, but this year that's impossible. Fortunately I haven't had to spend Ramadan alone because a neighbor has been living with me. Every night we sneak across the street to her sister's house to share ftour.
How do Moroccans break their fast? Learn more about Ramadan food in Morocco.
Ramadan TV Specials
Across the Arab world, Ramadan means tv series premiers, with new episodes each night for the whole month. In Morocco most channels have a hidden camera show that comes on right after maghreb when everyone's firmly installed in the living room in front of the TV.
This year we've been watching MBC5 during ftour. Their first show is called Khali balik mn Fifi ("Watch out for Fifi!"). Fifi Abdou, an Egyptian star, invites a different Moroccan star to her house each night. During the visit, things start going horribly wrong. It's painful to watch but also be darkly funny. (It was filmed, of course, before the pandemic, in a time where flying from Morocco to Egypt and visiting other people in their houses was still possible.)
The series that we've really been glued to comes on next. It's called Salamat Abou Bnat ("Salamat, father of daughters") and takes place in present-day Casablanca. The drama follows Mokhtar Salamat, an upstanding working-class Moroccan man, his wife Latifa, and their 3 daughters: Touria, Amal, and Nesrine.
Rather like a Jane Austen novel, the major drama revolves around whether or not the family will be able to keep their heads above water financially and whether the daughters will get happily married to worthy and deserving husbands.
Will Touria ever stand up to her boss? Will she end up with Mehdi or with Omar?
Is Nesrine's rich fiancé bad news, or just his mom? Will Salamat ever let them go on a date by themselves?
Will the evil neighbors ever be brought to justice? Will this once-happy family get the happy ending they deserve?
We've also been watching season two of Souhlifa, a comedy about a bossy little girl who lives with her uncle. If you're trying to learn Moroccan Arabic, I recommend both of Salamat and Souhilifa, especially Souhlifa because the episodes are short.
Ramadan is the first and holiest month in the Muslim calendar. It's a special bonus month where the good that you do can wipe out a year of not-so-worthy behavior. Giving to those in need (zakat) is especially important. Muslim charities receive a large portion of their income during Ramadan.
With many feeling economic repercussions of the pandemic, generosity and sharing are even more imperative. If you believe that good deeds do count extra this month, then surely they must count even more during this extraordinary year.
Words from this article
*ftour: breakfast meal, during Ramadan eaten at sunset (Iftar in standard Arabic)
*maghreb: sunset / sunset prayer
*niffar: technically "trumpeter," in Morocco we use this word to refer to the person who comes around to wake people up before shour (the pre-dawn meal). These days niffar's instrument of choice is the drum, although on the last night of Ramadan they're accompanied by a complete band.
*zakat: "alms," or giving to the poor; one of the 5 pillars of Islam