Rabat, Asharq Al-Awsat- Amongst some of the justifications put forward to explain the low turnout in Morocco’s 2007 parliamentary elections, was that the voting process coincided with the country preparing for the holy month of Ramadan. In their own opinion, the Moroccans were too busy to take part in the elections – which had a turnout of no more than 37%, the lowest ever in Morocco’s history – with preparing for the fasting month by heading to the markets and buying certain ingredients that are unique to Ramadan in order to make sure that the dinner table was full at Iftar [point at which fast is broken] and Suhoor [last meal before the fast begins] with popular dishes.
Getting ready for Ramadan in Morocco begins in the middle of Shaaban [the month that precedes Ramadan] and it is the markets that inform customers of this point as the market traders begin to sell products unique to this noble month, most notably dates, dried figs, and ingredients that are used to make Ramadan sweets such as ‘Chebbakia’, [a deep-fried sweet that is covered in honey and sesame seeds] and ‘Sfoof’ [also known as Sellou in some parts of the country, is a powder-form sweet made of ground almonds, sesame seeds and butter], that are essential for Ramadan in Morocco, as well as ‘Harira’, the soup that is irreplaceable for the fasting Moroccans.
As they prepared for the holy month, the Moroccans hoped that the weather in September, which is considered a summer month, would not be too warm in fear of causing thirst during the longs hours of fasting. Many holiday-goers have extended their vacations until September in the hope that prices would decrease and that popular places would not be overcrowded.
It is customary in Morocco that families get together during the month of Ramadan and spend part of the evening in front of the television sets. Television channels aim to attract viewers with Ramadan specials such as soaps and comedies, the latter of which seem to draw much criticism when they fail to make people laugh. Rather, they become a topic of conversation amongst people to the extent that this has also become a tradition of Ramadan.
But food is what is on everyone’s mind in Ramadan. Most people exchange recipes or discuss the increase in prices of vegetables, meat and fruit or advise each other on what is healthy to eat during this month.
People differ when it comes to breaking fast in Morocco. Some would break their fast with a cup of coffee whereas others would begin with a hot bowl of ‘Harira’. There are even those who prefer to end their fast with a cigarette, completely ignoring the advice of doctors who urge smokers to make the most of the fasting month by kicking the habit.
Whilst, in general, people in the cities prefer to break their fasts with a light, simple meal so as to avoid digestion problems, villagers prefer to end their fasts with a richer meal such as ‘Cous Cous’ or ‘Rafeesa’ [a popular local dish consisting of bread cut into pieces with lentils and chicken] after a hard day’s work in the fields.
Another feature exclusive to Ramadan is the attendance of men and women at the mosques to take part in the Tarawih prayers. This attendance means that the mosques are often filled quickly to the extent that many people have to head to the mosques straight after Iftar in order to secure a spot to pray in. It is noticeable that many Moroccans strongly adhere to taking part in the lengthy Tarawih prayers, even if they do not usually pray for the rest of the year, out of respect and appreciation of the holy month during which bars are closed.
Furthermore, another interesting factor in Morocco during Ramadan is that the level of reading increases. The readership of newspapers that increased during the recent elections will also enjoy a similar boost in Ramadan because reading is a way to pass time during the fasting hours and many papers strive to include interesting journalistic material such as memoirs of well-known figures for example. Ramadan this year has been overshadowed by politics as a lot will be written about the post-election period and the forming of the new government. Furthermore, the number of sales of books on religion and cookery books increase significantly.
The holy month of Ramadan is over before we know it. For those who find fasting comforting for the soul and of spiritual benefit, it is missed for the rest of the year.