Ramadan in Sudan [Archives:2005/887/Reportage]

October 20 2005


Ramadan in Sudan has its own flavor that differs from all other Islamic countries. As children we used to wait for Ramadan with great anticipation, but now as grown-ups who live outside the country, we miss it greatly because it bears the spirit of the Sudanese.

Though it is an Islamic occasion observed by all Muslims, each Islamic country has tinctured it with its own environment. Sudan is not an exception in that regard, but one believes that Sudan has extracted the best of these tinctures and observed them as Islamic values.

Being a tropical country where the temperature sometimes reaches more than 40 degrees centigrade, Sudan is affected by the severe heat during Ramadan. When Ramadan comes during the hot seasons, Sudanese start their work early at dawn, especially in rural areas. People say their morning payers in their farms. They work until it gets hot and then they start going back home, where they have a slumber until the time of afternoon prayer.

Some women go to the farm with their families, and when they return, they prepare the evening meal with the help of the other female relatives.

In towns, things are a bit different. People in official establishments go to work at nine o'clock. The markets and other places also start early in the morning. Vegetables and other Ramadan requirements will be in abundance and the markets will start being crowded from ten in the morning and onwards. Ice is an important item; people start buying it from noon and one often finds big crowds at places where ice is sold during this month. One feels the overall spirit of Ramadan in Sudan, but cannot say exactly what it is or how it feels. One is not sure whether other people than Sudanese can feel it or not.

Women in urban areas usually start preparing the Iftar (breaking the fast) meal at noon or sometimes a bit earlier, to guarantee its freshness at the time of the meal.

Mosques are always full in Ramadan. Religious sites of sufi leaders and others are also full of followers and their number increases near the advent of Eid alfitr (the celebration of the end of Ramadan). Sufi songs, which are known in the Arabian world as Tawsheeh, are often practiced in the nights of Ramadan, accompanied by drums and 'dofs'. Children and elders in rural areas used to gather around old storytellers, an event that is now replaced by radio and television. Others play cards and other sorts of games to late in the night. As for women in rural areas, they gather in houses and chat until it is dinnertime.

In urban areas, TV has dominated the life, though some habits still remain. Social clubs and sport clubs organize card playing contests that continue to the end of the month, but Sufi and other religious groups who oppose this trend, are still immune to that habit.

An old Sudanese habit is to share their meals in Ramadan. All neighbors bring their food together in a certain area, so that guests and those who have no food can take their meal. Older people strongly believe that it is a religious commitment. This habit still occurs during Ramadan, especially in rural areas and most of the regional towns. During the whole month, one will rarely find people who have their meals inside their houses. All along the roads, people sit around their meals feasting together. Passers-by are happily invited to stay and have their iftar meal. One admits that the invitations are so warm that one cannot say no. The authorities lately adopted this tradition, and massive iftar feasts are held in parks and open areas for all people.

Ramadan starts earlier prior to its actual advent and one's attention will be drawn to its beginning almost two months earlier by the smell of the special Sudanese drink called “Abraih” or “hilo mor”. This drink, which is especially prepared for Ramadan is a Sudanese brand that no other nation shares with them. Though no one knows exactly who and when it was invented, it is nationwide used. It might be an invention of the Sufi sites or another of its schools that most of the Sudanese used follow. Presumably, it was introduced to people who came from long travels in hot weather. It is well-known that drinking water after a long period of thirst harms the health, and to prevent this sickness, one should in stead be given a mixture of any durra paste. The drink hilo mor might have been invented in these eras. There are two types of hilo mor; the white and the brown one, the white being the most famous one.

The components of this durra drink differ, but they are agreed upon in the different parts of the county.

The 'hilo mor' is an Arabic word that means sweet and sour and is a good description to this queer drink that has a mixture of both tastes. Sudan is famous for its hot weather and this drink has a special ability to eliminate thirst, though other drinks are used as well.

The recipe of this drink contains durra and different kinds of spices, among others cumin dry parsley, cinnamon and ginger. The preparation of hilo mor starts with soaking the durra to make a malt. This takes several days. Another amount of durra is then ground and made into paste. The housewife scrapes the paste and gathers all the neighbors to help her. The house will be on alert on that day and it is an unforgettable occasion for children. Women take turns on scraping on a hot plate. It used to be a special round piece of pottery but recently a metal plate has replaced it. The thin sheets of wafers of hilo mor are dried on mats of palm leaves, and are afterwards packed in cartons.

Sudanese are determined that an amount of this hilo mor should be given to their relatives who are away from them, even those who are abroad. Another recent habit is the exchange of hilo mor between families whose sons are newly engaged.

Ramadan is not a season for idleness and relaxation, as it is the case in our normal behavior. The true meaning of Ramadan is to help the individual to control his primitive instincts and to consider freedom of others. It is obvious that animals have no consideration to others and human beings have this animal legacy. Religions, and Islam in particular, aim at humanizing the behavior. This will be through taming the harsh instincts, and by breaking the grip of habit. This cannot be enforced by law, but by strengthening the will. We notice that taming an animal, a horse for instance, is not easy if it is well fed and strong. People tend to weaken and then tame animals. Fasting weakens the body and gives a chance for the mind to dominate. What about the rest of the year? some could argue. The momentum of Ramadan remains for sometime and perfect prayer takes the lead, until next Ramadan.

All this has to do with the teachings of the Sufi belief in Sudan, to which the spread of Islam in the African countries is attributed.