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Some tips to touring Jordan during Ramadan

Ramadan is a Muslim religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, marked by fasting (sawm) from dawn until sunset, during which time adherents refrain from all food and drink.

While an excellent lesson in patience, sacrifice and humility, this practice may create some dietary difficulties for those working, studying and/or traveling in Jordan during Ramadan – as described in the following snippet from the Jordan Times:

Expatriates studying or working in Jordan say they face difficulty in locating places where they can have daily meals before iftar during the holy month of Ramadan.

Meanwhile, authorities insisted that no exceptions will be made to the strict regulations “to preserve the sanctity of the holy month”, issued ahead of Ramadan.

The Interior Ministry’s instruction should be observed by Muslims and non-Muslims, who are not allowed to eat, drink or smoke in public during daytime.

Suzie Banit, an American student studying at a public university, said it is hard for her to adjust to Ramadan customs.

“This is my first time to be in a Muslim country during Ramadan. I try my best not to eat in front of Muslims,” Banit told The Jordan Times on Tuesday, adding that expatriates may find Ramadan customs difficult to understand, yet, they are willing to respect them.

Eric Benz, a 25-year-old American, said he feels embarrassed to eat or drink in front of Muslims, adding that he tries his best not to do so.

While the elderly, sick, children, and travelers are traditionally exempt from Ramadan’s fasting regulations, it is still something to consider when working out times to tour Jordan as both a number of tourist sites, and eating establishments might be closed during daylight hours; as described in this snip from the same Jordan Times article:

The regulations, which were published in the local media days before the start of Ramadan, ban restaurants and coffee shops from offering their usual services during the day in Ramadan …

… Although Zu’bi said these regulation are applicable to all food outlets, regardless of their classification, several restaurants still open during the day, it is noted.

A restaurant keeper in Jabal Luweibdeh said his outlet is qualified by the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry, which means the restaurant can do business as usual in Ramadan.

“We are a three-star restaurant and we open from 9:00am till after midnight,” the restaurant manager told The Jordan Times yesterday adding that “on many days, customers need to make advance reservations”.

This would have been legal last year when the Interior Ministry allowed three-star restaurants to serve tourists during Ramadan days.

But Zu’bi said: “We have nothing to do with Tourism Ministry rankings. We have instructions and we are enforcing them with no exception.” Yet he acknowledged that police cannot raid hotels to check that the law is respected in the restaurants.

And while personally this last time around, I could have done with less eating in exchange for visiting more historic sites, such restrictions may pose a problem for travelers with health issues – as pointed out in this snip from the AP News service:

Ramadan – traditionally a time of abstinence and focus on prayer in the Muslim world has also become, health officials worry, a time of overdoing it and unhealthy habits.

Fasters who abstain from food, water and smoking during the day sometimes binge at night to make up,  …

… Few Ramadan health statistics are kept or publicized. But in Jordan, health officials said heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and simple indigestion cases seen at hospitals and clinics had skyrocketed during the holy month’s first week.

Of course it is not all hardship. In fact for some it might be very exciting time to visit, as described by the blog of a Northwestern student ‘Laura in Jordan’ in her recent post on Ramadan entitle ‘A lamb for dinner, minus the head:’

Ramadan was exciting for the first week because it has all the festivity of Christmas in the U.S. Colored lights — mostly in the shape of the Muslim moon and star — hang in all the windows, strangers greet each other with “Ramadan Kareem!” and the kitchen is a constant whirlwind of activity. Families travel in packs to relatives’ homes and devour heaping piles of meat and rice. I love watching the minutes leading up to the “iftar,” or “break fast.”

All that said, I did note a number of tour companies on the web that offer discounts for travel during Ramadan while Googling some information for this post – whether or not the sites you want to see are open during the daylight hours needs to be confirmed with any travel package.

It also doesn’t hurt to do a bit of online research at sites like the Lonely Planet which can offer cultural tidbits you may not have considered such as:

  • You can buy picnic food, but it is not polite to eat and drink very publicly when everybody around you is fasting.
  • The only “problem” we had whas when we came back in Amman and found all the restaurants closed for lunch!
  • During Ramadan some hotels have very noisy arrangements till late in the night in their restaurant area . Make sure that you are not going to be close to such a “sahra” if you want to sleep.

As you can see, your mileage may vary!

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