Open meals for fasters, a feature of Yemeni society in Ramadan [Archives:2007/1090/Last Page]

October 1 2007

Maged Thabet Al-kholidy
For Yemen Times

In some Yemeni cities, it is a common feature of the Holy Month to find open meals for fasters in places like mosques, markets, and homes. People offer such open meals as a religious and social prestige that characterizesYemeni society, reflecting a sense of cooperation, mercy, and intimacy among the people.

Such a custom is remarkably good for poor people as well as those who do not live with their families. Actually, the people follow the prophet's (Peace be upon Him) Hadieth that says “he who breakfasts any faster gets as many rewards from Allah as that faster gets, though his rewards are not decreased”. This is the religious aspect of this custom which makes some people run to do it almost every year. Mohammed Hassan says: “I do this to help poor people and those who do not have families”.

Though the aim is more or less the same, such meals differ from one place to another. The place and people invited are not, moreover, the same in all cases as elaborated below:

Some people take only some food items like dates, soup, samosa, and juice or coffee to mosques, where it is open for all fasters to share. In this case, all are invited, no distinction between a rich and a poor, or a friend, or an enemy. “I take only breakfast to mosques, where I leave it open for any one “, said Nageed Ba'adany, who used to take breakfast items to the mosque of his residence.

For some people, taking only breakfast to mosques is not enough because it is either expected by some fasters to get dinner also, or because such people get it a chance to help them. A negative aspect in bringing food to mosques is noticeably seen in this month “The mosques get dirty in Ramadan because of the breakfast and sometimes dinner food”, said Shawlaq Mosque's Imam.

In some markets, the street sellers have their breakfast and dinner in the places where they sell their items. Though some of them get food from their homes, or buy it from restaurants, they also get food from their neighbors. Maged Al-gonaid, a Qat seller, said: “I can not go home early for breakfast and dinner. Sometimes food is sent from home. Two people working in the same market bring food for me as well.”

Some people leave the doors of their homes open at the sun-set. Not all of them, however, invite fasters for breakfast and dinner. Due to some (almost) financial circumstances, some people invite people to have only breakfast at homes. This happens in rare cases because it is not a show of respect and social prestige to invite people only for breakfast and not dinner as well. In some cases breakfast and dinner are offered at the same time, while in others, the sun-set prayer separates the two meals.

Some people invite only specific acquaintances, e.g. friends, neighbors, relatives, etc. “I invite my relatives, friends, neighbors especially those who do not live with their families in the city”, said Abdulhakeem. In this, a kind of intimacy, love, and respect is created among people who breakfast, then pray, and have dinner together. In such meals, people meet, discuss common affairs, and may establish good relations. “I rarely meet my relatives. But in Ramadan I can meet them daily in one of the relative's home where we are invited for breakfast and dinner”, said Abdulah Mahdi.

However, there could be a negative aspect in this. Inviting only particular persons for such meals may create a kind of a social barrier between poor and rich people. Here, some persons are invited just as a courtesy. As a result, poor and those who are in need for such meals are ignored. The main aim of these meals is, therefore, broken, and people may not get the expected rewards.

A poor man expressed his anger towards such people when he described a neighbor's case saying “I sometimes want to have breakfast at his home because I can not go to restaurants, or any other nearby place. But I feel that he is only inviting well-looking, and highly-ranked people though I am his neighbor”.

On the contrary, some families leave the door open to whoever wants to share. Abdurahman wonders “why invite only some people rather than others since it is only for Allah's sake, I want all to come”. This represents a state of equality for all.