Ramadan and the Yemeni community in Birmingham [Archives:2004/787/Reportage]

November 4 2004

By Dr Khalil Abdul-Aziz
Bordelsey Green
United Kingdom

Although it could be said that the Holy month of Ramadan is neither felt nor experienced in all the major cities of the United Kingdom, this may not hold true for the city of Birmingham.
Birmingham is the second largest city in the United Kingdom and is situated at the heart of England. This beautiful city with its canals, large parks, traditional and modern buildings, in addition to other land marks such as the Bourneville village and being the origin of chocolate manufacturing is a very attractive city for tourists.
Birmingham is also unique for its mixed racial inhabitants. Out of the 1 million total inhabitants, 20% are of Asian origin, with Islam being their main religion.
The Yemeni community constitutes the second largest Asian community with approximate 10,000 members. The Muslim community as a whole has played and continues to play a very active role in the life of the city. Their presence is felt by the presence of the many different Mosques that decorate the city.
Beautiful Mosques of different shape and sizes are found throughout the city and parallel those found in Islamic cities. These Mosques play important roles in the life of the Muslim community, particularly during the month of Ramadan.
The Yemeni community is found concentrated mainly in three different districts of the city of Birmingham, namely Basal Health, Sparkhill/ Sparkbrook and at Sandwell. Although Yemenis in Birmingham originate from different parts of Yemen, the majority comes from Taiz and are largely concentrated in the Basal Health area of the city. The smallest part of the Yemeni community resides at Sandwell area of the city and because of the distance, has its own community centre.
It is managed by Mr. Seid Ben Seid, a very pleasant and friendly chap who strives continuously in looking after the welfare of the community. The major part of the Yemeni community lives in the Basal Health area and has a along history, dating back to the late Sheik Al-shaokani era. Basal Health is well known for having the Yemeni community centre called Al-Zawiyah. This famous and historic Yemeni place dates back to Al-Shaokani era and has continuously played an active role in the life of the Yemeni community. Presently, it is headed by Sheik Bakiel and provides various services to the community as well as being used as a Mosque for daily and Friday prayers, and undoubtedly plays a major role in the life of the community during the month of Ramadan.
The history of the Yemeni community, not only in Birmingham, but in the whole of the United Kingdom, is associated with the history of the Al-Zawiyah and therefore greater effort should be made in looking after this historic place.
Although the Yemeni community is one of the oldest communities in Birmingham, its success has remained limited. Unlike other communities which have excelled in education producing professionals in all walks of life (teachers, doctors, social workers, layers, journalists, scientists etc) and participated fully and effectively in society, the Yemeni community has lagged behind and its future is in question with continual threat of factory closure. The only option for the community is to focus seriously on education. However, the community would need external advice, motivation and continual support from the Yemeni government in order to succeed in this area.
The Amanat-Muath Welfare Trusts, which was founded with the financial help of the late Hail S. Anam, has come to play the major role in the life of the Yemeni community in Birmingham. The centre is talking some of the problems faced by the community and provides education, social support as well as acting as a gathering place for the community. However, with the extension of the services of the Trust to the wider communities of the city, the Yemeni community is fearing that this would be done at the cost of their own benefits since they feel that being all ready the most disadvantaged community in the city, they would have little chance of competing with rest of the communities for the services of the Trust
The centre has a small mosque used for daily and Friday prayers. During Friday prayer, the mosque fills and over flow with worshipers to fill all of the major Halls of the centre. The centre also plays a vital role in the community life during the Holly month of Ramadan. Ramadan in the United Kingdom has coincided with shortest days of the winter timing. Fasting starts at six o'clock in the morning and continues until just after 4 o'clock in the evening. Iftar and dinner is provided by the Amanah centre not only for the Yemeni community but also for the rest of the Muslim community.
Tarweeh is also held at the centre everyday from 7 o'clock onward and is attended by whole families. Like Friday prayers, during Tarweeh prayers the mosque fills with worshipers and, over flow to fill the rest of the Halls in the centre. Attendance of whole families for Tarweeh is facilitated by the Amanah provision of a nursery for infants and a youth club for the youths, run by Mr Ali-Alrwani an active member of the community, for the youth. In this manner parents conduct their worship in peace while their young enjoy themselves at the youth club. Iftar consists of dates, khoha (Yemeni coffee), in addition to samosa, Bugia and porridge.
The main meal course is similar to that consumed by Yemeni families back home in Yemen and consists of Murak (soap) salta, aseed, rice prepared in different varieties complemented by vegetables, especially important from Yemen and include Karath, spring onion, garlic etc. With the exception of Karath, the rest of the vegetables are plentiful in the city, however, those from Yemen are preferred and people are generally willing to buy them at higher prices.
There is a huge market for Yemeni products in the UK, particularly during the month of Ramadan. However, such opportunity has not been exploited effectively thus far by Businessmen both from here and from the Yemen. Therefore the limited supply of Yemeni products that arrives in Birmingham is sold instantly and in many occasions has to be rationed by shopkeepers. The Yemeni community continues to live in hope that one day they would be able to buy all their needs of Yemeni products from their local shops, like the rest of other communities in Birmingham.
Sahoor, which is taken at 5 o'clock in the morning, consist of chappati (Boor) with traditional Yemeni ghee with or without Yemeni honey while others stick to the traditional British breakfast consisting of serials, toast and omelette. During the last ten days of Ramadan, Tahjod is done at the Amanah's mosque and Sahoor is provided there as well by generous charitable individuals. Ramadan is lived and felt directly and indirectly by the whole community in Birmingham. Many changes and accommodations are made to meet the need of Muslims by many institutions including schools and work places. Since many school children observe fasting, even at early ages, schools with predominantly Muslim children's close half an hour early in order for the children to go home in time for Iftar with their parents. In addition, schools encourage parents to take their fasting children home for an hour at Midday to rest before resumption of the afternoon sessions. Similar arrangements are made in many work places where workers are allowed to start work early and go home early in time for Iftar. Although prayer rooms are found in many work places, additional prayer rooms are made available for Muslims during the month of Ramadan.
While Taraweeh is conducted in every mosques of the city during the month of Ramadan, Eid prayer is conducted collectively by the whole Muslim community at the City Central Mosque.
Although the Mosque is large, it can not accommodate the whole community at once. Instead, Eid prayer is conducted six or more times in order for all to pray. Following Eid prayer the Yemeni community gathers at the Amanah centre to celebrate the rest of the Eid day. Food and drinks are provided and presents are given to all children and the whole family gets the chance to spend a very enjoyable day.

A note from Yemen Times:
The above article was published before in the name of “Yemen Times Staff”, which is incorrect. The original writer of the article is Dr Khalil Abdulaziz. We would like to apologize to Dr. Khalil for the unintentional drop of his name and placement of “Yemen Times Staff” instead and also would like to apologize to the readers for not publishing this correction until now.