A practical guide to visiting Jordan during Ramadan
Visiting Jordan during the month of Ramadan is an extraordinary opportunity to experience local life and culture, and it’s unlike any other time of the year. The holy month is known as a period of spiritual discipline for Muslims, but it’s also incredibly festive with family gatherings, decorative lights, late-night eats and entertainment. For the most part, the tourism industry is business as usual. However, some services – such as alcohol sales – and opening hours are noticeably affected, so it’s wise to be prepared. Here’s what travellers can expect to encounter in Jordan during Ramadan.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the most sacred month for Muslims. According to Islamic tradition, it is believed that God revealed the first verses of the Quran during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, so each year, Muslims observe this with sawm (fasting) from sunrise to sunset for the entire month. But there’s more to Ramadan than forgoing food and drinks during daylight hours. Many Muslims contribute to charities, participate in additional prayers, spend time with family and devote themselves to reading and listening to recitations of the Quran.
A typical Ramadan day in Jordan
For Muslims, daily life during Ramadan follows the prayer and fasting schedule. Travellers are not required to participate, but if you’ll be visiting Jordan during the month of Ramadan, understanding the basic schedule will help you properly plan your trip.
A typical Ramadan day starts with suhoor, the meal eaten before the sunrise and first prayer. Between sun up and sun down, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking (even water) and smoking. During the day, locals may be napping, preparing food for iftar (literally meaning 'break fast', the meal eaten after sunset), praying and focusing on their spiritual practice, so many shops, businesses and government offices have reduced hours of operation. A couple of hours before sunset, the streets come alive – and can get quite crowded – as families stream out to shop for tamarind juice, sweets and other iftar supplies. It’s also common to deliver a meal to those less fortunate. At sunset, the muezzin calls Muslims to salat al maghrib, the prayer that immediately follows sunset, and then it’s time to break the fast. Some will simply drink water and eat dates so they can go directly to prayer before sitting down for the big iftar meal. Others will eat iftar and then pray.
Iftar is often shared with family and friends and is followed by sweets, tea, Arabic coffee and shisha. While many locals are at home with loved ones during this time, visitors may find the streets noticeably quiet. Some restaurants and hotels – such as Jafra, Wild Jordan and The Four Seasons Hotel – offer special iftar meals.
Although this might seem like the end of the day, during Ramadan it’s just the beginning. With everyone well fed and awake post-iftar, it’s time to head out to restaurants and cafes where entertainment, such as live music and magicians, awaits. During Ramadan it’s not uncommon to stay out into the wee hours and return home for or after suhoor – and then start all over again.
What to expect during Ramadan in Jordan
Travellers are not obligated to follow the fasting and prayer schedule, but it may affect your plans. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re travelling to Jordan during the Muslim holy month (and check out our top tips for visiting Jordan year round).
Muslims are the majority in Jordan, but followers of other faiths peacefully coexist here as well. Some may even participate in Ramadan activities, just as non-Christians might join in on Christmas celebrations.
Many businesses, shops, restaurants, cafes, historical sites and government offices reduce their opening hours during Ramadan. Guides may reduce their availability to allow time for resting, fasting, prayer and family. Check with your tour operator well in advance to avoid any scheduling issues.
Whether or not you are fasting, the majority of the country will be. If you eat or drink during daylight hours, try to do so behind closed doors, in a restaurant or hotel. Some restaurants and even some of the coffee and tea kiosks in touristic places like Petra keep their regular business hours, and most hotels serve food and drinks throughout the day. Liquor stores across the country are closed during Ramadan, but some bars, restaurants and five-star hotels are permitted to serve alcohol. As each property has its own policies, call and ask before making plans. It’s also important to keep in mind that some Muslims do not or cannot fast for a variety of reasons such as chronic health conditions, pregnancy and age (young children and the elderly). If you see Muslims eating or drinking during the day, respect their privacy and don’t press them for their reasons.
Fasting takes a great deal of discipline and adjustment, particularly during the first week, so, naturally people might seem gruff, but they’re likely just hangry! Be understanding.
No hijab required
The law in Jordan does not require women to wear hijab, and this freedom of choice still applies during Ramadan. However, modest dress is the norm in this Muslim-majority country, so it’s best to be mindful of what you wear no matter the time of year you visit. Both men and women should plan to keep their knees, shoulders and chest covered when travelling elsewhere in the country. If you can’t leave home without low-cut and shoulder-baring shirts, mini skirts or short shorts, reserve these looks for the resorts and private beaches only. If you’ll be visiting a place of worship, women will be expected to also cover hair and neck.
Embrace the nightlife and enjoy the atmosphere
Streets, shops, restaurants and homes are often decorated in lights during this holy month. Take a pre-sunset stroll and soak in the festive and friendly energy while families buzz about gathering Ramadan goodies. The country comes alive in the evenings during Ramadan, and it’s common to stay out late into the night. Follow the locals’ lead and check out the entertainment. Enjoy live music at a shisha cafe or stop by a pop-up Ramadan tent to play cards, sip coffee and watch a big-screen TV.
Accept iftar and suhoor invitations
If you are invited to eat an iftar or suhoor meal with locals, you’ll get a true taste of the joyous spirit and unique flavours of Ramadan. You are not expected to bring a dish or gift, but desserts – such as qatayef (a nut or cream-filled sweet dumpling) or kunafeh (a Palestinian pastry made with cheese and sprinkled with pistachios and syrup) – are always welcome at family gatherings.
When is Ramadan?
It depends. The short answer: the ninth lunar month. But because the lunar calendar doesn’t align precisely with the Gregorian calendar, the exact dates of Ramadan shift each year. And there’s an added twist: the start date depends on whether the moon is observed with the naked eye or determined by modern calculations. Historically, the first day was determined by the first sighting of the sliver of crescent moon. Some Muslims stick to this tradition while others now rely on scientific calculations to predict the exact date. To see whether the month of Ramadan and your trip to Jordan overlap, you can run a search online for Ramadan and the year you are travelling. Any search engine will deliver approximate dates, and you can plan accordingly.