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Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, will run from approximately May 5 to June 4 in 2019, although the specific dates could vary a day or two depending on the country and the various interpretations of moon sightings. During the Islamic holy month, governments and companies in Muslim-majority countries often adjust or alter their operations. From North Africa to the Middle East to South Asia, most businesses, restaurants and public services operate on a reduced schedule, and some simply shut down altogether.
Fully staffed facilities may see a drop in productivity because many employees are fasting. Observant Muslims typically do not eat, drink or smoke during daylight hours during the month. Meals served before dawn are known as suhur in Arabic, and those served after sunset are known as iftar; the latter are often consumed in large community settings.
The holy month also sees greater security risks because jihadist militant groups will often attempt to launch attacks to coincide with Ramadan, just as they do during other significant holidays and religious festivals. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have conducted offensives in war zones such as Yemen or Afghanistan, and have sought to coordinate high-profile attacks in other countries as well. They've also called for grassroots militants to carry out attacks during Ramadan — promising that those who do will receive greater rewards in paradise than attacks conducted in ordinary months.
Such attacks have previously targeted population centers and areas frequented by tourists and foreigners, including hotels, transit hubs, places of worship, airports and government institutions. Minority groups and non-Sunni Muslims including Sufis are often targeted, but Sunni Musclims can sometimes be affected by indiscriminate attacks as well.
Recent high-profile attacks during the holy month include a June 2015 attack on a tourist hotel in Tunisia; a July 2016 attack on a bakery in Dhaka, Bangladesh; and a June 2017 attack on the Iranian parliament. While 2018 did not see a large successful attack, disrupted major plots in Burkina Faso, Egypt, Israel, the Philippines and Turkey, among others, show that the threat didn't abate. Looking ahead, militant groups are likely to continue this trend, which adds to the risk of terrorist attacks in many areas.
Those operating or traveling in Muslim-majority countries should plan around Ramadan, and should:
- Expect limited services and delays during daylight hours, especially at restaurants and similar establishments.
- Anticipate heavy road and foot traffic during the time around sunset.
- Not be surprised by increased security measures, such as roadblocks and checkpoints, to counter potential threats.
- Exercise increased situational awareness to mitigate the risk of petty criminal activity that increases in some areas, especially around sunset.
- Be alert to the heightened risk of militant attacks, and be especially mindful of pre-operational surveillance and other signs that could indicate a hostile actor is preparing an attack.
Those operating or traveling in Muslim-majority countries should plan around Ramadan.
While it's always sensible to be prepared for emergencies, travelers should take special care during Ramadan to consider their response to possible attacks — whether a bombing, a stabbing, an armed assault or other type of incident.
Moreover, several steps can help one to avoid offending local sensibilities during Ramadan. Travelers should:
- Avoid eating, drinking or smoking in public during daylight hours, keeping in mind that in some countries it is illegal even for non-Muslims to break the fast during daylight hours.
- Consider asking guests if they are fasting before offering water, coffee or snacks during business meetings.
- Take special care to dress modestly (such as covering the shoulders and knees) when in public.
- Avoid scheduling meetings and appointments late in the day, since many contacts will want to be with their families and friends to break their fast.