On a social level, Ramadan is an opportunity to visit family, whether around the breakfast table or after Tarawih prayers over our famous Moroccan tea. Friends meet in cafes that are crowded until late at night. Diverse and colourful Morocco is one of the gateways to Africa, sitting on the continent’s northern coastline, with historic influences from European, African and Arab cultures.
This predominantly Islamic kingdom of 37million people has the fifth largest economy in Africa and a beautiful mix of mountain, desert and coastal scenery.
Marrakesh’s medieval medina quarter, with its maze of streets, will sell you everything from rugs to jewelry. In the capital, Rabat, the country’s long history as a staging post to just about everywhere, is represented by the Kasbah of the Udayas, a royal fort built in the 12th century CE, that sits overlooking the water.
Ramadan is almost universally observed, although as a country that welcomes tourists, a blind eye has to be turned to visitors who unwittingly eat all day while the locals are fasting!
Boutaina Khamlichi is the wife of the Moroccan Ambassador to Riyadh, and has three children, two girls and a boy. She grew up in Marrakech, graduating from Mohammed V university in Rabat, and now has a PhD in law. She has lived in Riyadh since 2018.
“This is my first time living abroad,” she says. “I usually stay in Riyadh for two to three months, then travel back to Morocco to see family and friends. It has been a wonderful experience as it has broadened my horizons and the people have been so kind.
“Riyadh is a particularly beautiful city – the combination of its climate, heritage, culture, architecture and religion makes it unique. Not only are the Saudi people welcoming, open and warm but they value respect and friendship; they are people for whom morals, ethics and traditional values are essential and sought-after in a person.”
We asked Boutaina to describe her experiences of celebrating Ramadan.
How does Moroccan culture mark Ramadan?
We call it the month of fasting and resurrection, as an expression of appreciation and veneration of the religious side of this holy time. Apart from the religious aspect, Moroccan society has developed other customs, one of them being the grandiose character of Iftar, the feast of breaking the fast.
What are the rituals around Iftar and Suhoor?
When Ramadan coincides with the summer season, parties and artistic events are held in many cities in the streets and major squares. There is no doubt that the 27th night of Ramadan is the most important, usually coinciding with the Blessed Night of Power. Homes are scented with incense and family evenings extend to the end of the night.
One of the night’s customs is to give gifts to children who are fasting for the first time. The children wear traditional clothes and are congratulated on their religious commitment. Although most Ramadan customs remain, some are dying out, for instance the “Masharati”, or “Al-Nafar” as it is called in Morocco, which is the calling of believers to the pre-dawn Suhoor meal before the fast begins – it has all but disappeared.
What special dishes you prepare for Iftar and Suhoor?
The Iftar table is considered the main meal during the holy month, and harira soup is its most important component, prepared with pulses, vegetables and spices. The table includes dates, milk, eggs, fruit juice and pies, in addition to various types of desserts, including chebakia (fried pastries), al-sfouf (turmeric cake) and kaab ghazal (almond pastries).
We treat the stomach gently and don’t overload it. After fasting all day, you won’t be able to digest a lot of food easily, so it’s best to start with something light, perhaps harira, which is rich in vegetables; and quickly digested sugars such as chebakia and baklava. Then we let the stomach recover for an hour or two, after which come traditional Moroccan dishes such as couscous, served with meat and vegetables as well as chicken.
Do you buy or wear any special outfits?
This is the month when traditional Moroccan costumes come into their own, particularly the jilbab in various colors and designs. Men wear leather-soled footwear called “al-balagha”, and women wear decorated shoes called “sharbil”.
Do you decorate your home for Ramadan?
It’s an opportunity to change the decoration of our houses to make them more beautiful and welcoming for family and friends. Many people set up a space at home dedicated to prayer and reading the Qu’ran.
How do you celebrate Eid?
We get up early and get ready, wearing the most beautiful djellabas and belgha [traditional leather slippers], to look our best to go to Allah’s home to pray for Eid.
After that we visit family, especially our parents and grandparents, and we eat breakfast together, with Moroccan tea and sweets, and traditional pancakes called “rghayef”.
Children receive gifts and sweets. It is also customary to exchange gifts with family and friends.
Where will you spend Ramadan this year?
I will be in Riyadh with my husband and children.