Tunisians Disagree on Fasting and Closure of Cafes During Ramadan

Adult Muslims traditionally fast from dawn until sunset during the month of Ramadan, which begins in Tunisia this year on July 10. Fasting is one of the five pillars, or duties, of Islam that Muslims are obliged to follow.

Refraining  from fasting is not only religiously prohibited for Muslims in Tunisia, but is also socially unacceptable. Most coffee shops and restaurants close during the day and alcohol may only be served to non-Tunisians who present the seller with their passport.

Restaurants will usually open for the iftar, the evening meal to break the fast.

This year, Minister of Religious Affairs Nourddine Khademi emphasized this on radio station Mosaique FM, stating that “opening coffees during Ramadan is not permissible.”

Khademi asserted that people should not openly eat food in front of others during the holy month out of respect to “the Islamic religion, and also since Islam is the religion of the people and of the state.”

There are exceptions, however. The Minister of Tourism said on Monday that restaurants and coffee shops will be open during daytime in touristic regions, according to state news agency TAP.

Tunisia Live went to the streets of downtown Tunis and asked Tunisians about their thoughts on the closure of cafes and restaurants during daytime in Ramadan.

Restaurant announcing closure during the day in Ramadan

Restaurant announcing closure during the day in Ramadan, July 2013. (Photo: Asma Smadhi, Tunisia Live)

Seventy-five year-old Mohamed Hadedi believes that destinations serving tourists can be open for business but “in downtown Tunis and in popular neighborhoods they should be closed during Ramadan.”

“If anyone does not want to fast, he should eat at his house,” said Hadedi.

“If you sin, you should be discrete” he added, referring to an saying attributed to the prophet Muhammad.

Tarek Rafahi, a middle-aged man, agreed with Hadedi that he prefers to see coffee shops and restaurants closed during Ramadan.

“Everyone has the freedom to choose whether he wants to fast or not, but if he chooses not to fast, he should eat at his home.”

Rafahi mentioned that he travels and believes tourists do not present a problem during the month of Ramadan. Most tourists respect Tunisians who are honoring their religious practices, he said.

In his support for the closure of restaurants and cafes during Ramadan, Hamza, a 19 year-old who works at clothing shop in downtown Tunis, cited his irritation by the smell of smoke that infiltrated his workplace from a nearby coffee shop last year.

In Tunis, however, there is a whole community of silent non-fasters who prefer to keep their eating habits to themselves during Ramadan. Some restaurants and cafes in downtown Tunis have typically welcomed these customers, although hiding them behind glass windows covered with newspapers.

Amine, one of the non-fasters, told Tunisia Live that he manages to drink water during the holy month despite social restrictions, including doing so at work without his colleagues finding out. He opposes the restrictions put in place this time of year.

“I am against the closure of restaurants and alcohol being reserved only for tourists,” he said in a conversation online.

Amine is outraged by the fact that during Ramadan Tunisians “put our lives on hold for a whole month, especially now that it [the month of fasting] happens during the summer.”

It is commonly known in Tunisia that some people will stock up on alcohol before Ramadan begins to assure access to beer or wine during the holy month.

A young Tunisian student spoke with Tunisia Live online, preferring not to share her name out of respect for her family who are unaware that she has stopped fasting two years ago.

“If I wanted to feel what the poor experience, I might as well give them food,” she said of her decision to stop observing Ramadan.

She decided not to fast anymore after what she described as a year of “transition” during which she decided who she was and what she believed in.

She argues that giving food to the poor is “more humanitarian and even much more logical. Why would they care if I starved myself for a month? They need food; they don’t need my selfish sentiments of fake philanthropy.”

Her decision was also prompted by her observations of Tunisian society.

“I was infuriated by the hypocrisy of people who observe this yearly enlightenment. They spend the other 11 months of the year lying, cheating, drinking, judging people, and being all ‘modern;’ but once Ramadan comes along, they suddenly become pious,” she said.

“I respect people of all religions and orientations, but what I cannot stand is hypocrisy. And I wasn’t ready to be one when I decided to stop fasting. I don’t believe in it, so why should I do it?”

By Asma Smadhi for Tunisia Live

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