Ramadan is a Muslim religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is believed to be the month in which the Qur’an began to be revealed.
The name Ramadan is said to have derived from the source ramad, which means heat or, more specifically, the intense heat of the sun. According to Islam, Prophet Mohammed was spoken to by Allah on a date known as Laylat al-Qadr or the Night of Power. Allah gave Mohammed the teachings of the Qur’an and set him on his path to becoming a prophet and the founder of the Islamic faith.
Ramadan is a time when Muslims are supposed to focus on self-reformation, spiritual cleansing and enlightenment, establishing a link between God and themselves through prayer, supplication, charity, good deeds and kindness.
When I was a kid, I used to love Ramadan than all other s i m i l a r fasting seasons of other religions because during the month of Ramadan our daily supply of dates, pastry and other sweet meats was assured.
“Saleh, please don’t forget to bring sambusa (rolls filled with ground meat or lentils) and mekhlil (fried sugared dough) tomorrow.”
Saleh is a classmate and we, Christians, felt it was our inalienable right for Saleh to feed us with sambusa every day. This resulted in creating strong bonds of unity between the followers of the two religions.
When we were kids the month of Ramadan and the feast began each day at dawn, when the “white thread becomes distinct from the black thread”.
The air was filled with all kinds of sweet fragrances coming from pastries displayed in the streets. Frankly speaking for us Christians Ramadan is a feast par excellence. A season of joy and fellowship of the followers of all religions surpassing many holidays.
In fact, we were so much attracted to Ramadan that we even detested our Muslim friends who failed to observe the fast not because we felt righteous indignation at their disobedience, but we didn’t want to miss friends like Saleh who brought us various pastries and invited us to their houses during Eid Al-Fitr. After all we were only kids and we thought and acted like kids.
The Asmara shuk (Market Place) was busy with street vendors hawking their sweet scented merchandize displayed on a long table for all to see and smell.
Feturek Yasaim! (Eat with healthy relish O thou who are fasting) they would shout. We enjoyed the show, the smell, the chanting from the nearby Mosque, the hustle and bustle of the people, bicycles, wheel barrows, taxi’s, etc.
We toured the food sites with our small allowance, we bought some pastry and ate them on the spot, a practice unthinkable to our Moslem brothers for they had to wait until a white thread became impossible to detect in the dusk.
When we were school children we always wondered how a person could abstain the whole day from f o o d and drink. How about in the scorching sun of the lowlands? And imagine performing a heavy task at the same time in order to earn one’s living.
But the idea was to instill in the individual physical and spiritual discipline. Besides, it serves to remind the rich of the misfortunes of the poor and imparts on the believer a sense of solidarity and mutual care among Moslems of all social backgrounds.
Those w h o d i d n o t fast for a good reason (traveler and sick people) can make up the days they missed at the later day. But on that day, together with those who observed the fast for the entire month, they were the happiest people on earth having sanctified the fourth pillar of Islam, which is, by the way, known as Som which rhymes with the Tigrinya word Tsom.
During last year’s Ramadan I and my siblings were invited to one of our friends’ house for an ‘Iftar’ feast, during which we ate sambusa and mekhlil and drank abake and fruit juice and played video games. Prior to the start of Ramadan we did the same thing during the Christian Lent. This has been a tradition among us for almost 20 years while it is a tradition dating back hundreds of years for Eritrean Christians and Moslems to live harmoniously and share religious holidays with one another. Just one of those Eritrean things, I guess!
This year, due to the COVID- 19 pandemic and the social distancing, quarantine and lockdown guidelines that followed, Christians and Moslems have been forced to observe prayers and fast at home. For the first time in over a decade we couldn’t have our Muslim friends over for Easter lunch nor could we visit them for an Iftar Ramadan feast. The best we could do was share the food by sending some of it to one another’s homes. That will do for now.