Ramadan is the time of the year when Muslims fast. It is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. All across the globe, Muslims fast from twenty hours to less than ten hours depending on the time of the sunrise in their location. Fasting for this nation of 2 billion people means not eating, not drinking and not having intimate relations during daylight hours.
Ramadan is a challenging month, especially during the long hot days of summer. It is considered in the Muslim world as the most religious time of the year.
Each country adds its cultural touch to it, so although the religious rituals are the same, the food, the activities and the pace differ from one country to another.
Ramadan is more than a holy month for Tunisians. It is the month when many cultural activities are held and when their lifestyle is completely altered.
Whatever season it overlaps with, it is true that Ramadan modifies four common habits for Tunisians.
1. Eating habits
Since in Ramadan Muslims observe the fast during daylight hours, their appetite increases significantly when they break the fast during the Iftar, the first meal eaten after sunset.
In Tunisia, bakeries, local shops and even supermarkets sell products proper to the holy month. Zlabia, for instance, is a sweet made by deep-frying a wheat flour batter in pretzel or circular shapes and then soaking it in sugar syrup. Zlabia is only available during Ramadan. Eating it at night, after a lengthy dinner, while watching TV and being surrounded with family, is a popular behavior. This goes without saying that it is not healthy to consume it everyday as it contains a lot of calories.
According to statistics from the National Consumer Institute (INC), which carried out a comparison between the average consumption during the year and that during the holy month, the consumption of sugar and sweets reaches a peak of 60 percent in the month of Ramadan, which can be highly dangerous as it can provoke many diseases.
2. Work and study habits
During Ramadan, the working and studying hours across the country are shortened. For instance, the working hours for all Tunisian authorities and public institutions this year are from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. This gives room for individuals to get some rest before undergoing any other activity. Therefore, the most common pattern among Tunisians is to take a nap right after work, cook and have dinner with family afterwards, then go out.
Since Muslims wake up to eat Suhoor, the meal consumed early in the morning before the fasting, their sleeping hours change accordingly. It is therefore fair to say that Ramadan changes the pace of life in Tunisia.
3. Night activities
For many years, Ramadan has concurred with the summer season in Tunisia. It is yet another reason to encourage Tunisians to go out at night and enjoy all the festivities that the month offers.
The most famous festival in Ramadan is Le Festival de la Médina. This year is the 34th edition of the festival. Several events are held throughout the month in different areas of the city of Tunis as well as outside it, such as in the Municipal Theater of Tunis, Bir Lahjar, Medressa Achouria and Dar Lasrem. The cultural events usually promote traditional Tunisian music.
While some prefer listening to music, others choose to go for a stroll and wander around the beautiful alleys of La Médina or Sidi Bousaid if they live in the capital. The most visited places across the country are undoubtedly cafés where men, women, children, families, couples or friends gather for a cup of mint tea with sometimes some pine nuts. It is one of the most famous beverages in Tunisia.
4. Praying habits
Verse 183 in the second chapter of the Quran is "O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you as it has been prescribed to those before you in order that you may attain Taqwa (piety)."
Many tend to forget that Ramadan is not only about abstaining from eating and drinking, it is one of the five pillars of Islam, and therefore it has a strong religious value. While some like to interpret this as an opportunity to pray more and go to mosques more often, others prefer to show their devotion and closeness to God by adopting a more tolerant behavior towards others, by helping out those in need and by embracing all the values that Islam promotes.
No matter how it is expressed, the religious consciousness of Tunisians awakens in Ramadan, and it leaves place for better and stronger relationships within families, neighborhoods and communities.
Many say that Ramadan brings its own atmosphere to the air and that its spirit lingers around the streets even when it ends. The truth is, the mindset of Tunisians that shifts during 30 days, engendering radical changes in their behavior, is the genesis of it all.