Escaping the heat, excessive prices and the shackles of morals, more and more Muslims in France prefer to celebrate Ramadan in France, rather than in North Africa, moving their vacation dates so they would return to France by the fasting month, August 10th.
Meziane Idjerouidene, CEO of the Aigle Azur airlines, says that this summer the waves of people going back started in early June, while normally it's 23-25 of June and the peak of returns was between August 8 and 10, the beginning of the 9th month of the Muslim calendar. Last year Ramadan (August 22) also caused a shift in the dates of return, but it was less pronounced. The company transports 1.7 million travelers a year, 50% of them to the Maghreb.
The Société nationale maritime Corse Méditerranée (SNCM) shipping company, which serves Tunisia and Algeria, say the same. They recorded many returns on 7-8 of August, while usually there are none at all.
Traveling is not banned on Ramadan. Michel Reeber, religious historian, says that according to Islamic law, a traveler is exempt from fasting. The author of Petite sociologie de l'islam (2005) says that the reason people return to France before the fast is due to climatic and social control factors. "In the Muslim countries, social control is stronger. You are obliged to a certain number of rules, to religious practices. Here, it's much more flexible."
Mounir Zaida (30), security officer in the Evry (Essonne) court, admits he "blew a fuse" after spending "three weeks of Ramadan in Morocco" in 2005. This summer, he preferred going there in late June and early July, mostly to avoid being there during the month of fasting.
He says he doesn't like to spend all of Ramadan there. It's too hard and there's nothing to do. People work, it's too hot. You can't even go to the beach, because you can't look at girls, you have to avoid the temptations. You can't enjoy yourself.
Doria (37), mother of three, always goes on holiday in Algeria. But this summer she moved her vacation because of Ramadan. It's too hot in August to fast there, she says. Going to the beach is not compatible with Ramadan, you can't go without the risk of being insulted or attacked. And additionally, with all the dishes you need to prepare, cooking takes up most of the time. So they spent the days at home.
The childminder, who lives in Aubervilliers (Seine-Saint-Denis), says she prefers spending Ramadan in France, where she can go to concerts and take tea on the terrace.
Nostalgic for the 'old days' of Ramadan in North Africa, Abdallah, a Parisian in his fifties, recalls the party atmosphere that prevailed then. The meal was like a party every day with many people around the table. The nights were long evening gatherings.
Today he doesn't go there anymore, he laments the 'tensions', 'hypocrisy' and the traders who raise their prices.
Next year the fasting month will also begin in midsummer, from August 1. Like Air Algeria, who launched a special 'siam' (fasting) fare, tour operators who want to revive Muslim interest in Ramadan 'in the country', need to give better offers, says a company official.