رمضان كان أحلى في السودان
My beloved country Sudan is undergoing the worst economic and political crisis in the turbulent decades since independence in 1956. In Dec 2018, significant peaceful protests broke out throughout Sudan and after 30 years of an oppressive Islamist Military regime, the Sudanese were able to topple the dictator Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019. A transitional government was formed of Civilian and Military parties that was meant to lead to elections in 2023. This was unfortunately put to rest by the military coup of October 25, 2021. Since then, the Sudanese people, led by the Resistance Committees, have been protesting to call for a return to complete civilian rule in Sudan. More than 93 people have been killed since the coup during violent crackdowns by the security forces trying to deter them.
The arrival of Ramadan this year, traditionally a time of spiritual worship and gatherings, against this backdrop takes much away from the joy and spirituality associated with the Islamic holy month of dawn-to-dusk fasting.
As a result of the instability, withdrawal of international aid and the absence of a functioning government, the economic, security and humanitarian situation is deteriorating by the day. Severe shortages of food staples and price hikes prevent many people from keeping up with Ramadan traditions. Inflation is through the roof, and people often queue for hours to buy essential foods, cooking gas or fill their cars with petrol. Households suffer from frequent power cuts and water shortages. The UN says that the number of people facing extreme hunger will more than double to 18 million by September.
I have been lucky to experience Ramadan in Sudan for a few years when life was more stable and simpler. Beyond the spiritual and religious side, Ramadan in Sudan has unique rituals. Daily sunrise to sunset routines of cooking, eating, and socialising made it a very special time of the year.
Preparations for Ramadan started early, beginning with the tradition of the making of “Hilumur” or “abré” which is a special kind of dough made of sorghum that is then dried to use during the holy month. It is soaked to make a special Ramadan juice aromatic with many spices. The air in the neighbourhood is infused with the smell of “abré” and usually women would gather to make it together and share meals, tea, and coffee for at least a day. The prices of ingredients are now unaffordable for many families, but people are still trying to work around it by sharing or making do with what they have.
Families used to buy new utensils, serving sets, glasses and jugs during Ramadan, but the current economy has made that an exceedingly difficult dream and many have let go of it. The preparations also traditionally included stocking up on dates, “Qamardin” which is made of dry peaches, nuts, raisins, sugar, flour, cooking oil, and other ingredients used for Ramadan feasts. People have grown accustomed to smaller quantities of these luxuries and have settled for the essentials.
On the last day before Ramadan, the Sudanese used to embark on a tradition called “Kham al Ramad,” which means collecting the ashes. In the old days, this tradition was a sign of all the wood or charcoal burnt to generously prepare “abré” and food before Ramadan to eat and enjoy together. So, they would collect the ashes to show how much they burnt. Nowadays, people use this day as a day to party, feast and go out in ways you would not be able to do during the day while fasting.
Ramadan nights are very social times for Sudanese; the chatter begins after “Iftar” on the streets before people disperse to perform their evening prayers and special Ramadan “Tarawih” prayers, on which Sudanese are very keen. The word “Tarawih” is derived from an Arabic word meaning “to rest and relax”. Muslims around the world perform more “cycles” of prayers, reading longer verses of the Qur’an, seeking peace and rewarding closeness to their religion. The longer prayers also give people the chance to digest their “Iftar” ready for more night meals. Then visits to neighbours and families begin, and they delay dinner until after midnight, after which the family will stay up until the time of “Suhoor.”
“Suhoor” is the last meal you are allowed to have before the fasting starts every night. The timing of “Suhoor” meal varies according to personal preference, but it is usually delayed as much as possible until just before dawn. And a fascinating tradition for me was the “Mosaharaty” chants and drumming! A group of young people would roam the streets knocking on doors and chanting rhymes to wake people of the neighbourhood up for “Suhoor” banging on drums or buckets. The sound was magical! I am sure not everyone appreciated it at 3am but most people had the spirit of Ramadan to help them embrace the noise. Nowadays, these chants are bursting with revolution slogans calling for Freedom, Peace, and Justice, often announcing next day marches and protests.
Protests continue to fill the streets every day despite the sweltering heat and fasting.
In the hour before “Iftar,” as the last sunrays light the country, there is usually a silence on the streets and a sense of calm despite the crackdown on protesters and detentions. Most houses will be bustling with preparations for the meal keeping a sense of normality. Sudanese will always try to eat together with their more extended family, neighbours, and friends. This year, many “Iftars” have been held in memory of those martyred for the revolution to mark and celebrate their sacrifice for a democratic civilian rule.
Men would usually take their trays of food and drinks out to the streets and eat together with neighbours and people passing by. This also allows those who are homeless or poor to join the meal without feeling awkward or “less” in any way.
The Sudanese “aseeda” is a staple Ramadan dish along with yoghurt and cucumber salad, “foul” and “taamiya.” Hibiscus juice and “abré” or “Hilumur” juice must-have drinks, in addition to other favourites such as “gongolez” or baobab and guava juices.
On the run up to Eid, the end of Ramadan celebration, usually on the last Friday of Ramadan, some perform the rite of “Rahmatat”, which is offerings for those who passed away. Food is shared with the poor and children of the neighbourhood are given sweet things such as dates to eat and pray for the dead.
For Eid Al-Fitr, the Sudanese will buy new outfits and bedding, clean and decorate their homes and bake special biscuits “Ka’ak” and buy candy and sweets. After Al-Fitr prayers which are usually early on the first day after Ramadan ends and people break the fast, people would visit each other greeting one another with “Eid Mubarak” and hugging. Differences are put aside and lots of appreciation is shown to relatives and friends. They would pray for mercy for those long gone and spend the three days after Ramadan socialising and celebrating.
The people of Sudan continue to show great courage and make tremendous sacrifices. They are setting an example for the peaceful pursuit of their rights to peace, freedom, and justice. It is now the world’s turn to support their quest and their dreams for a better tomorrow. When the streets would again be infused with the smell of “abré” again and the sound of children playing in safe streets will fill the air.
Image credit: Reuters
Image credit: Arab News