Ramadan in Morocco during lockdown

Normally, the centuries old traditions of Ramadan are sociable affairs as abstaining from food and water during daylight hours gives way to festive feasts and communal gatherings at dusk. With the coronavirus upending these faith-based traditions, we asked Ahlam Ben Saga, one of the journalists we meet with on some of our Morocco tours, to describe for us Ramadan during COVID-19.

Ahlam writes.. “Whenever Ramadan comes to an end, Muslims around the world already start looking forward to the next one — wishing for next year’s holy month to find them more successful, more at peace with themselves and each other, happier, and healthier.

On a day like today a year ago, and all the years before it, you would find the streets and traditional souq markets of every city and town in Morocco bustling with activity, beating with life.

As you roam the streets before iftar [breaking of the fast], bumping shoulders with the crowds, you would hear the joyous laughter of children playing and running around, find people lined up in front of shops to buy their favorite Ramadan delights, and smell the mouth-watering aromas of Maloui [Moroccan pancakes] and Harira [Moroccan soup] emanating from every house you pass by.

After the Iftar, you would find mosques packed with worshippers of all ages, praying Tarawih, the daily Ramadan night prayers. And after Tarawih prayers, people would start to reemerge from their homes, ready to start a long, fun night, walking hand in hand with friends and family.

Today, on another day of Ramadan 2020, the streets of Morocco will tell you a different story. Day and night, they remain empty, quiet, waiting…

Instead of the delicious aromas of Ramadan sweets, the odors of disinfectants have changed the way the air tastes.

COVID-19 has changed the flavor of Ramadan.

Rabat, Morocco during COVID-19 quarantine. Completely empty streets and green park areas surrounded by tall white buildings

Rabat, the Moroccan capital city during COVID-19 quarantine. Photo: Agence MAP

The unforeseen storm

Life as we know it has been pulled from under our feet. It was on March 2 when Morocco confirmed the first positive case of the novel coronavirus. Not very long after, we began to feel and live the change.

In mid-March, the Moroccan government declared a “Health State of Emergency.” To curb the spread of the virus, all international flights were suspended. Mosques, schools, malls, markets, cafe shops, restaurants, public baths, and other small businesses were closed. In addition, movement between cities and neighborhoods was restricted.

The mandatory home quarantine in Morocco was to remain in effect until April 20th. However, as the number of cases continued to rise to more than 4000 cases, this was extended until May 20th.

People knew what that meant, this virus that has claimed thousands of lives worldwide is nothing short of serious. It meant that this year, they were going to spend Ramadan in lockdown, never to attend mosques, never to visit their friends or family members, never to enjoy a cozy iftar on the beach, and never to experience the mystical atmosphere that colors all Ramadan nights.

The coronavirus lockdown is everything that Ramadan isn’t. Ramadan is all about social gatherings whereas our lives now are all about social distancing.

Still, health comes first, above all traditions — even Ramadan traditions that we have always looked forward to and loved.

However, people are finding ways to cope and enjoy this holy month in the comfort and safety of their homes.

In Tangier during COVID-19 quarantine. Street lights shine on empty streets between the tall white buildings and the blue sea

Tangier during COVID-19 quarantine. Photo: Agence MAP

Spending Ramadan online

Now more than ever, the internet has become the world’s second home. People are working, studying, grocery-shopping, and partying, all virtually.

Moroccans and other Muslim societies have taken to the virtual world to share the Ramadan spirit during these unprecedented times.

Today, you’ll find chats of people showing each other their Ramadan routines, sharing Ramadan recipes, and even holding virtual prayers.

Though most people are finding solace in the internet while coping with feelings of loneliness, this quarantine is, at the same time, a unique opportunity for families to spend more time together in real life.

Many Moroccan families quarantining together have created their special Ramadan routines. They’re praying nightly Ramadan prayers together, reading the Quraan, preparing iftar together, and playing family games to pass the time.

The holy month of Ramadan is not just about abstaining from food and drink from dawn to sunset; it is an opportunity for Muslims to give back to their community, reflect and connect to spirituality, discard unhealthy habits, and celebrate their ties with their loved ones.

The pandemic may have changed the flavor of Ramadan as we know it, but we have created a new flavor; its main ingredients are acceptance and unity.

Blue and white pottery place settings and a traditional Moroccan feast cover the Iftar table ready for the break of fast during Ramadan

Moroccan Iftar table

At the start of Ramadan, people say, “Ramadan Kareem,” and on the last day it changes to “Eid Mubarak,” referring to the “Feist of Breaking the Fast.”

As citizens of the world, we cannot wait for the day we will finally return to normal life and celebrate the victory of humanity over its current enemy, the same way that we’re looking forward to the first day of Eid and all future Ramadans!”

Written by Ahlam Ben Saga, e-journalist, blogger, and copy editor based in Morocco. She covers a wide range of topics including lifestyle and social issues.  Distant Horizons so enjoys meeting with her on some of our Morocco tours. You may read her Morocco World News articles here.

Portrait of Ahlam Ben Saga, smiling with short black hair and a black shirt

Ahlam Ben Saga