Dos and don'ts in Zanzibar during Ramadan

Sunday May 26 2019

Forodhani open air food market in Stone Town, Zanzibar, is a must visit.

Forodhani open air food market in Stone Town, Zanzibar, is a must visit. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Zanzibar is a popular destination because of its laid back nature, ideal for unwinding. If you find yourself in Zanzibar during the month of Ramadan, there are a few rules you need to observe so as not to offend the cultural and religious norms of the islanders.

Zanzibar being predominantly Muslim, during Ramadan, everyone is expected to adhere to the Islamic teachings of fasting from dawn to dusk, at least in public. The street restaurants are closed during the day, and generally there are fewer people on the streets during the day.

Visiting at such a time can be tricky, especially for non-Muslims, because of all the Ramadan etiquette to be observed. With almost 95 per cent of the 1.3 inhabitants being Muslim, it is best to go with the flow. 

Here are some tips:

Since it is the month of fasting, it is advisable to refrain from eating and drinking in public during the day, and with most restaurants closed during the day, eating in is the best option. It is considered polite not to eat in public during Ramadan.

Enjoy iftar (the evening meal breaking the fast). You can do this on an evening stroll around the town, sampling all sweet and savoury Swahili foods on offer in restaurants and street stalls.


Dress and talk modestly:

Local women will be dressed in the black buibui (abaya) and hijab (Islamic headgear), For islanders, Ramadan is not just about fasting. Although it is not law, visitors are expected to dress modestly. Head covering for women visitors is not necessary, but shorts, miniskirts or skimpy tops are discouraged. In case of a bare back top, a scarf covering the bare skin is advised. Men should dress in long shorts that cover the knees, or trousers. It is always appreciated when visitors make an extra effort to respect the culture.

Minimum publicly display of affection:

Holding hands or brief hugs as way of greetings are okay, but all other physical touching should be kept private.

Stay for celebrations:

After 30 days of fasting, Eid celebrations follows and in Zanzibar lasts for four days. Bring your best clothes for this and be ready for the feast of the year.