Tuesday, 29 May 2018


Ramadhani in Dar es Salaam, Throughout the Years
By Mohamed Said

Eid Fitr Mnazi Mmoja 2006

Observation of the holy month of Ramadhan in actual fact begins when the moon is sighted at the end of Shaaban. Soon after Magrib prayers all eyes will be in the sky searching for the moon, the ‘’hilal,’’ to reveal itself in the sky. People would rush outside mosques all eyes up in the blue sky. And when the moon is sighted you will hear people shouting, ‘’It is Ramadhani, it is Ramadhani.’’ After Isha prayers, tarweh prayers will begin. But in actual fact the countdown for Ramadhani begins in the Month of Rajab through Shaaban. As a young boy growing up in Dar es Salaam of 1960s I have fond memories of the Holy Month of Ramadhan. I remember Ramadhani as a child of about six years and I would tell my parents that I too would like to fast and they would encourage me fully knowing that half way I will ask for something to eat and my mother would have it ready in the kitchen. Mostly it would be the leftovers of the previous day ‘’futari,’’ which is what we call in Kiswahili the food eaten for breaking the fast (saum). Most kids were like me would attempt to fast and break the fast half way. Looking back I see that was for most of us was a dress rehearsal for the coming years when we would observe Ramadhani as young Muslims.

 During Ramadhan mosques would usually hold ‘’darsa,’’ after every Salat Dhuhr and L’Asr, but it is the L’Asr ‘’darsa,’’ which is well attended and patronised. The reason being that most of the people are at home from work and most important this is the ‘’darsa,’’ when the ‘’tafsir,’’ (translation) of the Qur’an is held. It is a very sombre occasion. A ‘’Kari,’’ (a reciter) will recite few lines from the book in ‘tajwid,’’ and after that the sheikh will take the ‘’darsa,’’ through the ‘’tafsir.’’ This ‘’darsa,’’ will continue throughout Ramadhan until the end of the month when it is concluded by ‘’khitma,’’ and usually a prominent ‘’ulamaa,’’ is invited to close the ‘’darsa.’’ The invited sheikh would hold court that day and close the ‘’darsa,’’ In Shaallah until next Ramadhan.
This usually is a time when you would see old people bending down their heads in sadness that Ramadhani had come and gone too quickly and going with all its ‘’rehma,’’ and all its good traits. They would also think and wonder whether they will be around next year to witness another Month of Ramadhan. The ‘’darsa,’’ will go up to few minutes before sunset when it it will be wind up with a ‘’dua,’’ and wait for the sun to set which is the time to break the fast.

Soon after L’Asr and ‘’darsa,’’ activities will shift towards the food stalls outside the mosque. There will be all kind of foodstuffs displayed on stalls around the mosque mainly delicacies from fresh fruits, dates and cooked foods such as vitumbua (rice cake), maandazi, kababs, mishkak (barbecue), sambusas, juices, sharbat etc. To an uninitiated one would think it is a food festival. When the ‘’adhan,’’ is called from the minarets of the mosques to break the fast the mosque grounds bursts with activity. Ramadhan is the month of generosity, Muslims others sitting inside the mosque and others outside will offer each other dates and drinks of different flavours  to break the fast. Muslims wanting to reap from the hadith of the Prophet (SAW) which says whoever gives food to a fasting man will get same ‘’thawab,’’ (reward) as the one who is fasting without anything reduced from his reward.
Much as the Holy Month of Ramadhani is a month of prayers and reflections, Muslims doing their utmost to be much closer to Allah through prayers, recitations of the Qur’an, giving to charity and what have you, Ramadhan in this part of the world and I believe in many Muslim countries comes with a festive mood and the mood can be felt the whole day through. But this mood reaches fever pitch particularly few hours before sunset when Muslims are about to break the fast. This festive mood actually begins in the morning and can be seen in the markets which in my language Kiswahili we call ‘’soko,’’ borrowed from the Arabic word, ‘’suk,’’ meaning ‘’market.’’ The stalls will display a variety of foodstuffs for in my country there are particular dishes which are solely eaten for ‘’iftar.’’ For example rice is not among the dishes favoured during Ramadhan to break the fast. Going to the market during Ramadhan is fun in itself as the markets are flooded with people buying and at times haggling for prices with the merchants. A merchant ‘’tasbih,’’ in hand will call upon Allah and His Prophet (SAW) that the dates he is selling are from Madina Munawar and hence the high price he is charging is justified.  Another merchant will argue that the chicken he brought to the market are of the special breed and its meat is tender fit to be eaten during Ramadhan for ‘’iftar,’’ as well as for ‘’suhur,’’ which in my language we call, ‘’daku.’’

As one is walking back home from Maghrib prayer he would pass rows and rows of mats outside houses with plates of food on them covered by colourful handmade covers waiting to be devoured. During Ramadhan people do not take the ‘iftar,’’ in doors, people eat outside in the open air and they do this in order to make it easier for any passerby Muslim who is far from his house to join in and eat. It will not go down well when a Muslim hurrying to his house for ‘’iftar,’’ to refuse an invitation to sit and break the fast with fellow Muslims on his way home. Usually one will sit down and politely accept the invitation and will take a sip of tea or porridge or ‘’shurba,’’ which is a kind of porridge made with meat and spices, a popular dish during Ramadhan. After eating a little the stranger will rise up and be off on his way home to have a proper meal among his family members. But this was a long time ago. In recent times this close-knit Muslim community has been affected by immigration of people from their traditional areas to new ones because of multiple of factors. Encroachment of new buildings built by developers over areas previously owned by the indigenous Muslims has ruptured the bond which had existed for many years.

The new generation has absorbed new values of nucleus family and this has eroded further the bond which had existed during the time of their parents where the community was seen as one huge family. In short the new system in existence can no longer support that easy going culture of the forefathers. The new generation do not walk to the mosque. They drive to the mosque with their children in air conditioned cars, windows pulled down with food for breaking the fast packed. The old mosques are still there but that festive mood which was part of Ramadhan of yester years is not gone but to say the least is a far cry from what it used to be. The vacuum created by this new life style has been replaced with a complete new way of life. The children after Salat Taraweh would gather at different flood lit playgrounds to play basket ball. Driving back home the father would reminisce of his child hood days going to the mosque praying in a dimly lit mosque using kerosene lamps for lighting which spewed black smoke. The mosques had no electricity and loud speakers. Those days have long passed particularly in mosques situated in urban centres through they are common in rural areas.

Salat Tarweh is the heart of Ramadhan. After ‘’iftar,’’ Muslims would rest for a short while and then go to the mosque for ‘Isha,’’ and after ‘’Isha’’ will stand for ‘’tarweh,’’ In Salat Tarweh many mosque the imam would recite in the prayer a ‘’juzuu,’’ (chapter) for each day of Ramadhan completing the whole ‘’mashaf,’’ at the end of the month. Not all mosques recite whole, ‘’juzuu,’’ each night of Ramadhan. There mosques which are specifically known for these long recitations and there are those which recite short suras randomly. After Salat Tarweh people would go back home and there will be some fun either talking or play cards before going to bed to wake up for ‘’suhur,’’ during the third part of the night.

Beginning past midnight there are groups of people going around the streets singing beautiful ‘’kassida,’’ (Muslim hyms) beating ‘’duf’’ which is a small drum light in weight stopping at every house to wake up the neighbourhood for ‘’daku.’’ This is called in Kiswahili, ‘’kigoma cha daku’’ roughly translating as ‘’wake up call for daku,’’ In appreciation for their work they will be given money. This adds flavour to Ramadhan adding into it a festive atmosphere. Soon after these town criers have gone, ‘’daku’’ will be served and some will go back to sleep and others will stand for ‘’kiam layl,’’ the night supplication and this to grownups is the pinnacle of the Holy Month of Ramadhan.

After the end of Ramadhani it is Eid...Muslim bid farewell to the Holy Month with sadness and nostalgia.

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