Ramadan in the Far East and Africa

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While it may come as no surprise that Ramadan is publicly observed in most countries in the Middle East, it’s also marked in Muslim majority countries elsewhere, such as Indonesia and Morocco and by regional communities in other multi-faith countries.

The ninth month of the Islamic lunar year, Ramadan is marked with a month of abstinence from eating, drinking, sex and smoking during daylight hours, for all healthy adults.

Non-Muslims are not generally expected to fast, but may be encouraged to eat behind closed doors, or at least be discreet, and in some places there can be an impact on business opening hours.

As the strictness of Ramadan observances can differ greatly from region to region, it’s sensible to thoroughly research any impact on local business and what is expected of visitors before planning a trip during Ramadan.

Followed by 88% of the population, Islam is the predominant religion of Indonesia, which means Ramadan is widely observed. As well as fasting and abstaining from drinking and smoking, many Indonesians see Ramadan as a time to pay their respects to the dead, gathering at family graves and royal cemeteries. While Muslim-run restaurants close during daylight hours, you can generally expect Christian, Chinese and Balinese businesses to be open. Non-Muslims are not expected to fast, but it can be hard to find food during the day in some remote areas and you should be discreet about eating in public places.

Just over 60% Malaysia’s population are Muslim, and while non-Muslims are not expected to fast, Ramadan still has considerable impact on businesses and public transport. Cafes and restaurants run by Muslims will not open until mid afternoon, when pasar Ramadan (or Ramadan markets) also open for business, selling sweet and savoury Iftar treats.

Muslims only make up a small part of the Kenyan population, but there are several Islamic communities on the Kenyan coast and throughout the northeast who strictly observe Ramadan. Fasting is widespread and many small restaurants close during daylight hours, although non-Muslims are not expected to participate. Nairobi also has a notable Muslim population and several mosques, where Ramadan prayers take place.

While over 99% of the population of Morocco is Muslim, as tourism is the main source of income, Ramadan has less of an impact than in many other Muslim majority countries. Non-Muslims are not required to fast and should be able to find somewhere to eat in the larger, most touristy cities, such as Marrakech, Rabat and Agadir. Even where food is available, you should show respect by refraining from eating and drinking in the street. Shops and sights generally remain open, although businesses may close early to allow staff to get home in time for nightfall. More rural destinations away from the main tourist hubs can prove trickier, with most eateries closed for daylight hours during Ramadan.

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