Culture April 17, 2021 at 12:00 pm

From moon watching to lantern-lighting, here are five Ramadan traditions in Africa

Ama Nunoo April 17, 2021 at 12:00 pm

April 17, 2021 at 12:00 pm | Culture

A group of men praying during Ramadan. Photo: REUTERS/JOSEPH OKANGA

Muslims the world over observe the Holy Month of Ramadan every year. They fast, give alms, and pray to strengthen their faith. It is compulsory for all able-bodied Muslims to fast. Each region has its own culture and history deeply rooted in the observance of Ramadan.

Ramadan is observed yearly during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and it occurs within a period of 30 days after the sighting of the new moon, which marks the month the Holy Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammed in AD 610.

Although the basis for the observance of Ramadam around the world is the same, every region has its own unique way of observing the Holy month.

Here are some unique ways Africans observe Ramadan.

Town Criers

In Morocco, the nafar or town crier dresses in their traditional gandora and dons a hat and slippers to mark the start of the day at dawn with his sweet melody.

This tradition dates back to the seventh century when a trusted companion of the Prophet Mohammed roamed the streets at dawn singing harmonious prayers.

Only honest and empathetic people in the community are chosen to be the nafar. The nafar walks the streets at dawn blowing a horn to wake people up for pre-dawn meals or suhoor. The sweet music which engulfs the town is met with gratitude, and on the last night of Ramadan, the nafar is heavily compensated by their community.

No fish

So during Ramadan, Muslims must abstain from food and water till they break their fast. In Djibouti, everyone stops eating fish during Ramadan because it is believed to increase thirst during fasting periods.

Lighting colorful lanterns

This cultural act of lighting colorful fanous or elaborate lanterns has come to have a spiritual connotation over time, symbolizing joy and unity throughout the month of Ramadan in Egypt. This tradition is associated with the Fatimid dynasty when military officials made the locals hold candles in wooden frames to illuminate the path for the Caliphate at the time, Al-Muʿizz li-Dīn Allah, as he arrived in Cairo on the first day of Ramadan.

Children now find joy roaming the streets with their fanous, asking for sweets and gifts while singing merrily in the streets. The fanous evolved from a simple wooden box to intricate well-designed lanterns that are now lit all over Egypt to spread light and love in Ramadan.

Exchange of gifts

In Cameroon, an important tradition during the Holy month of Ramadan is the exchange of gifts between spouses and engaged couples. This supposedly draws the couple together as they embark on their fasting journey together.

Moon watching

The maan kykers or moon watchers are the only ones who wield the power to inform the Muslim community in South Africa that Eid-al-Fitr is upon them. Although Ramadan ends everywhere else in the world with the sighting of the first crescent of the new moon, the Muslim community in South Africa converges in Cape Town to wait for the maan kykers who have the official mandate to declare the sighting of the new moon. This must be declared with their naked eyes on a night when the clouds are clear.

The moon watcher is appointed by South Africa’s Muslim Judicial council.

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