Ramadan in Hodeidah: A spiritual time with a special flavor [Archives:2006/985/Reportage]
By: Abdulwahab Al-Sofi
Ramadan in Hodeidah governorate has its own flavor and taste, with habits differing from those in other areas of Yemen.
Yemenis receive Ramadan by going to the market beforehand to buy food items used during the month – spices, maize, soup, juice, pudding, dates and juice, which are very necessary for Ramadan meals. Others buy new household items used in the kitchen to prepare Ramadan meals.
Like other Yemenis in various locations, Hodeidah residents fast during Ramadan days and stay up at night. They start fasting from early morning, beginning at the fajr prayer until the maghrib prayer.
During this month-long period, Muslims learn good lessons from Ramadan, such as patience, tolerance and forgetting their differences and disputes. Such differences traditionally eclipse most denominations stances toward many issues, but they seem to lessen while celebrating the holy month.
Looking more closely, every region differs somewhat in celebrating this significant event and, interestingly enough, different Ramadan rituals can be observed within a single city.
For instance, once the first indication of Ramadan is spotted – the welcoming new moon phase – Hodeidah locals can be heard echoing, whether through the imposing minarets of mosques or on the tongues of gleeful children, who start roaming and shouting, “Welcome, welcome Ramadan!”
English-language inspector Hasan Baghawi agrees that the overwhelming tide of change, which is a true characteristic of Ramadan, isn't enough to convert some social aspects, but rather exceeds it to the degree of turning night into day and vice versa.
Therefore, Hodeidah residents patiently await Ramadan to enjoy the nights as they change their lifestyle completely, incorporate special features and customs into their meals and live fantastic nights during the month. During the day, many people sleep until nearly midday, after which some start working in the afternoon while others go out to buy food necessities.
After fasting, citizens eat dates at the maghrib prayer and then go to the mosque to perform their prayers together. Afterward, they return home to rest before dinner, with all family members gathering together in one place for the meal.
What pleases most Hodeidah residents during Ramadan is hospitality and solidarity. Neighbors exchange food at dinnertime, with Hodeidah locals distributing large meals to their neighbors and relatives nightly. Fasting citizens always are given a taste of breaking the fast from neighbors and vice versa. Because of this, one can see plates filled with special foodstuffs moving among neighbors before breaking the fast (a few minutes before the maghrib prayer).
Ramadan has special traits. After dinner, isha and tarawih prayers are performed collectively at a mosque and then citizens assemble in a mabraz, a place used for qat chewing, to chew together and share various aspects of their lives. They often take turns reading verses of the Qur'an.
In different places like Zabid city, some complete reading the Qur'an three times during Ramadan, while others read it 10 times. Mohammed Hasan Warrow of Zabid spoke about Ramadan nights there, which essentially are the same as in all Yemeni towns, but have a special flavor and spirituality represented in the following:
Zabid residents usually gather nightly in a mabraz to sit together and study the Qur'an throughout Ramadan. In some places, citizens complete reading the Qur'an every three nights, reading it 10 times throughout Ramadan's 30 nights.
Famed for its many mosques (the city has approximately 82), Zabid's mosques feel alive and spiritual when filled with prayers throughout Ramadan from early evening (isha prayer) until late night. Citizens perform isha and tarawih prayers in early evening every night of Ramadan, led by learned Qur'anic scholars called imams at all mosques. Imams who have memorized the entire Qur'an recite tarawih prayers every night until the end of Ramadan and Qur'anic portions are divided for the 30 nights of Ramadan.
Some special and large mosques in Zabid like the Great Mosque and Al-Asha'air Mosque perform tarawih prayer two to three times every night of Ramadan so those who haven't performed their prayers in early evening can perform them in late evening or late at night. Prayers are begun after the isha prayer and then at 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. Prayer calls are done three times via loudspeaker, therefore, everyone is notified about performing tarawih prayer at different times of the night throughout Ramadan.
Furthermore, those who care more for others are present especially on the last 10 nights of Ramadan, where the rich visit the poor and distribute Ramadan charity, by which they ask Allah's forgiveness and acceptance of their good deeds during Ramadan and the whole year. Thus, Ramadan in Zabid has a special flavor and spiritual status, which remain in the memory and are never forgotten.
Many mosques in Hodeidah city read short Qur'anic passages and thus complete tarawih prayer very quickly, while others prolong the reading during prayers, especially tarawih and tahajod prayers (performed after tarawih prayer), but this depends on the imam of the mosque. Most often, they are Sunni, Islah or Sufi groups. Sufis usually read short suras (chapters) of the Qur'an.
Ultimately, such slight differences vanish as soon as they begin thinking of the month's most magnificent event wherein Muslims wish for success to be granted. This is the Night of Power, during which the revelation came down to the prophet for the first time through the angel Gabriel. During the last 10 nights of Ramadan, Muslims crowd mosques until the dawn prayer and during these blessed nights, they wish for success to come across the Night of Power.
Hodeidah residents carefully prepare breaking the fast meals, from which they distribute some portion to relatives, neighbors and nearby poor people. The meal may contain Lahouh bread (a pancake-like bread made out of maize or corn flour) for making shafout, sambousah, soup, pudding, sweets and some fruits.
Thus, women usually exchange their cooking experience, while others vie to create new dishes. Some women go to mosques, where special places are made for them to perform their prayers collectively. They also visit relatives and friends to congratulate each other on the occasion of the generous month. In some very poor locations, citizens eat shafout (lahoh bread leaf and yoghurt) and beans in Suhoor for dinner.
Ramadan in Al-Husainiah, a town near Hodeidah, has few changes, as residents usually break the fast at maghrib prayer with dates and a meat broth with a small piece of lahouh. Dinner should consist mainly of a type of bread called kader (made from millet or sorghum) and meat, sometimes with rice. Shafout usually is eaten soon after dinner, followed by pudding and tea.
Wealthy citizens always send meat broth with lahouh and dates to mosques, where the poor can break their fast. What draws attention is that preparing dinner among neighbors alternates from one family to another. For example, one family will mill millet and bake it for neighbors, while another family will do the same tomorrow and so forth.
After tarawih prayer, older people especially gather in a mabraz (a gathering room) to read the Qur'an, whereas some youth find it an opportunity for a group trip outside of their area to play sports or converse humorously with each other. However, mosques usually are filled with prayers, including young people, who regularly perform their religious duties during Ramadan.
For the dawn (Suhoor) meal, food is nearly all natural – cow milk and local bread (kader) – whereas in Hodeidah, the meal at Suhoor may contain roasted fish with local bread and local cheese blended with tomatoes, pepper and garlic. Sometimes, the meal might be local bread made from barley mixed with natural milk (fattah).