Tunisia is 99% Muslim, and as any Muslim country, there are cultural standards that should be followed. Religion is very important in the Tunisian society. During Ramadan, a lot of shops, cafes, and restaurants are closed between “fasting hours”, which run from sunrise to sunset but in tourist zones many restaurants and cafes stay open. The date of Ramadan changes each year, depending on the Islamic Calendar and the sighting of the moon by the people, however it usually falls in April or May.
The word Ramadan is often associated with the sacrifice of fasting; in reality what is important is the spirit behind this time of year considered sacred in all Muslim countries, including Tunisia.
However, Tunisia’s open and ‘westernised’ mind compared to other Islamic countries makes Tunisian Muslims more tolerant than others towards foreigners and tourists who do not apply their own customs. So much so that in the more touristy areas of the city, restaurants and bars remain open and it is therefore possible for all non-Muslims to consume food and drink during the day. Alcoholic beverages could also be consumed, but this would be seen as a sign of disrespect, as would dressing flashily and in low-cut clothes.
This is because Ramadan is not just about fasting but also about practising charity and setting spiritual limits. It is like a period of penance in which excesses and transgressions are forbidden and one learns to appreciate the value of things.
In fact, during this period of great spirituality, Muslims observe certain customs: they pray several times during the day, fast from dawn to dusk, and try to be charitable and good to others. In order to cope with the hours of fasting, which are even more difficult during the long, hot summer days, before dawn (Suhoor) people strengthen themselves by eating a traditional dish of couscous, called Al Masfouf. As the sun goes down, clubs and nightclubs fill up and the atmosphere is relaxed and joyful.