Questions have arisen in Morocco and other parts of the Maghreb as to whether the observance of Ramadan constitutes a denial of the individual rights of non-observers to eat and drink as and when they please, as in many towns they have only limited access to food and drink during the daytime.
When fasting during the holy month of Ramadan it is forbidden to eat, drink or smoke from dawn till dusk and many cafes, bars, restaurants, kiosks and food shops close completely in the daytime. Those that do open often work behind closed curtains and charge inflated prices for their services and in Morocco to take food or drink in the daytime is actually illegal.
Article 222 of Morocco’s penal code states “a person commonly known to be Muslim who violates the fast in a public place during Ramadan without having one of the justifications allowed in Islam – such as travel or sickness – shall be punished by one to six months in prison,” as well as a fine.
In other countries of the Maghreb, there is no similar legal ban although eating in a public place during the day during Ramadan might be interpreted as an abuse of Islamic protocol. Those who refuse the activists’ demands for more liberal practices say they should respect social harmony, and consider that eating in front of a fasting Muslim is a “provocative act” and disrespectful behaviour, although non-observers are free to eat or drink at home whenever they want.
The dispute raises the issue of the relationship between secularism and theocracy in the Maghreb. On the one hand non-observers feel they should have the right to behave as they wish. On the other hand, observers consider the demands of non-observers disrespectful if not downright illegal. Given the pressures of Ramadan, resolution during the fast is unlikely.