Observing Jumaat Rajab in Taiz: Pilgrimage to Al-Janad Mosque [Archives:1999/43/Culture]

October 25 1999

Farouk Al Kamali
Yemen Times,
The first day of Rajab is a memorable day for most of the Yemenis. On this day most Yemenis embraced Islam. Then Al-Ganad Mosque was established by Moaad Bin Gabal who, on the first Friday of Rajab, prayed in it. Yemenis in different parts of Yemen are very keen on celebrating this occasion. However, the celebration becomes very special at Al-Ganad Mosque. People including men and women go to perform a rite, listen to sermons, discourses given by holy men preaching the virtues of Islam and chants praising the Prophet. These sermons also talk about the pious role of the Yemenis.
All, rich and the poor alike, love to go on this day to the mosque. Most of them bring their wives with them. They also carry all that they need such as food etc. as they are going to stay in the mosque for the whole night of Thursday praying and thanking God for everything He Bestowed on us. They also ask God for have mercy on Moaad Bin Gabal. The Sufis do also hold “Mawaleeds” where many captivated persons keep doing some actions that astound everyone. These Sufis start their celebrations by praising God and the Prophet while they are sitting. Then, they stand up and start moving their heads as well as their bodies in a harmonious way. They utter certain expressions and chants while performing such actions. Their actions gather intensity as they move their bodies until they reach a specific stage in which some of them start stabbing their bodies with swords without any apparent injury. It is actually mind boggling. I do not Know whether this is an act of worshipping God or a magical act.
Others may gather around one or two persons in the mosque who beat the drums and chant specific religious chants glorifying Islam. The people repeat in chorus certain expressions and religious lines after the chanters. While everyone is involved in this, a man stands and distributes water and perfumes to all around. Women stay at the rear of the mosque, having some circles of their own. Some bring their sick children and pray to God to cure them in this sacred place.
Some practice some time honored beliefs such as taking the names of good people to pray to God. Some go to pray in front of a holy stone placed at the campus of the mosque. It is said that in old days it was used to indicate the time of prayers. Some benevolent and well-to-do devotees distribute money to the poor as well as to children. Therefore, all the people become happy and satisfied.
There are many activities worth mentioning such as, the excitement, religious fervor, crowds of people inside as well as outside, the huge numbers of people coming to participate in these festivities. People from different places including Khawlan, Aden, Lahj, Hadramout, Ibb, Dhamar, Shara’ab, Saber, etc. flock to this mosque in this occasion. It is a time when all come together regardless of their districts, colors and status. This creates an atmosphere of relief and happiness for the devotees. It is worth mentioning that the celebration of the first Friday of Rajab of this year took place in an atmosphere of conflict. Some religious men including Abdul Mageed Al-Zandani waged a war against these people who celebrate such occasions for they say that such activities amount to heresies. Abdul Mageed Al-Zandani wrote a circular in which he announced that Islam prohibits such a get together of men and women for celebration. However, what I saw was nothing other than prayers and sermons to heighten the religious fervor. The men were in the front of the mosque and women are at the back. Therefore, they were not at all mixed. Some other religious men are of the opinion that we should celebrate such an occasion for it reminds us of the rite of passage, the day of our conversion to Islam. Al-Ganad Mosque has a special place in everyone’s heart for it is the mosque which witnessed Yemenis voicing the “Shahadatan”, that there is no other God except Allah, and that Mohammed is his Prophet. They also prayed the first Friday of Rajab in it. The prayers as well as the ceremony took place under the surveillance of the police who came to maintain security. In the mosque we met some worshippers who came from different places.
Haj Abdullah Al-Masholi, from Al-Hogariah, said “On this day Yemenis were converted to Islam by Moaad Bin Gabal. They also prayed the first Friday of Rajab in this mosque. Therefore, such a mosque has a special appeal in our hearts. We come here to remember our ancestors who all have gone, to ask God for forgiveness and to commemorate the day Yemenis were converted to Islam.”
Haj Ali Hazaa Al-Sabri, from Saber, said “I came here last Thursday and I spent the whole night in praying and asking God for forgiveness. I did not mix with the hallowed ones. This day is a very special day for me and I keep waiting for it till it comes.”Al-Haj: Saleh Ahmad Ali, from Ibb, said “This Friday is a blessed day and he who prays here and God remembers him, he will have a blessed year.”Mr. Mogahed Abdul Wahed said that the first Friday of Rajab is a special festival that should be considered as a holy Eid. It should also be celebrated by all Yemenis each year for it is the day Yemenis embraced Islam. The celebration of Yemenis on this occasion is also a tribute paid to Moaad Bin Gabal as the one who spread Islam in Yemen. When asked whether he considered this is a heresy or not, he said “this festival is meant to celebrate the occasion of the Yemenis embracing Islam. Besides, this occasion brings together all the haves as well as the have-nots. The rich are also reminded of their duty to help the poor and relieve them of their suffering.”Mr. Abdul Salaam Kahtan Mohammed said that it is a nice get-together in which all are happy and content. “All are happy because they have been led to the right path. However, the number of devotees currently assembling here is decreasing in comparison to the previous years which is due to the rumors that these celebrations are heresies. Is it a heresy to celebrate the day Yemenis started leading a new life, worshipping God, the Almighty?” he said. He went on to say “It is also because of the globalization and the openness of the new generation to new ideas and concepts that such rumors are entertained. These new concepts and ideas may deface some essential principles of our religion, let alone our past and tradition. He who has no past, has no future. Therefore, we should maintain the past and take care of it as we take care of the present and the future.”Another viewpoint is that what happens on Friday Rajab 5 at Al-Ganad Mosque is a fascinating and thing that should frequently happen. It is really heartening for anyone to seeing all happy and cheerful. The market in front of the mosque added to the excitement and candor of people in the mosque. It also intensified the religious activities there. If such activities are regular, they will attract tourists and the mosque will be like the Graves of Mrs. Nafeesah and Mrs. Zainab in Egypt. These two places are considered to be holy places visited by people in large numbers who come to pray to God, ask His forgiveness and ask Him to cure them if they suffer from any diseases. The increased number of people who go there has made it a focal point leading to emergence of a dynamic market. Besides, these places have become a center most tourists are very determined to visit. They have become more famous than the pyramids. Therefore, efforts should be made to preserve and maintain such archeological sites and mosque.
The grave of sheikh Ahmad Bin Al-Wan located in Yafruss is another archeological monument that is ignored and is never paid the right attention by the Ministry of Religious Endowments. It has a high important evident from the great number of people who come to visit it from time to time. The mosque built next to it should also be renovated. The Ministry could also build a market and a number of buildings for those visitors who come from different parts of Yemen as well as outside Yemen. If this is done, the economic conditions of the people in the district may radically change and instead of merely hawking on the visitors they may resort to some decent activities to earn their living. Such archeological and sacred places in our country should be better utilized properly like other archeological places in different other countries.