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The Sweetness of the East African Ramadan

Childhood Memories

Nearly Adhan

At five o’clock, the large mats were laid out in the middle of the courtyard, one for the men and boys, and one for the women and girls. It was then time to set up the plates, cups and glasses. We rushed about to get everything done and set up before the sun set began, before the adhan was heard.

The evening breeze combined with the exquisite smells of food, the buzz of chattering in the courtyard is one of my most treasured memories. Those moments for me were the essence of Ramadan as a child. Just recalling the memories fill me with joy all these years later.

In anticipation, we used to sit on the mat, legs crossed, ready with our freshly squeezed glasses of orange juice, waiting patiently for the adhan. Just as it struck six o’clock all the mosques within the vicinity of our home and all across the city would make the call to prayer.

My grandmother would shout out to make sure we ate the dates first and not rush to drink water or juice. My mother’s voice would follow with the reminder we needed to break the fast with du`aa’ [prayer]. We sat in silence, as we mumbled our du`aa’, munched on the dates and sipped our drinks – watching for who would be the first to dash off the mat to go pray and run back – as the food will soon be laid out for all the family to share.

Ramadan nights were the most magical of all. As soon as it got dark, the duff players would be out on the streets, singing nasheeds as we marched out of our homes heading to the mosque for Tarawih Prayer.

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The streets would come alive on nights of Ramadan. It seemed everyone was in good spirits. The elders would be preoccupied with ibadah in the mosques or at home, we the children of the neighborhood gathered in groups outside, either chatting or playing cards or indulging on those patiently awaited snacks that we accumulated all day long.

Ramadan was joyful, cheerful and plentiful. It was also a time of playfulness for us children. We were allowed out late and on the weekends we stayed most of the night at the mosque.

On the nights that were deemed as the nights of Laylat Al-Qadr we would go around greeting strangers making sure we squeezed their thumbs as we believed in the myth we told each other that during the nights of Laylat Al-Qadr there is an angel roaming the earth.

The angel would look like a pauper, or like a destitute old person who has no bones in his thumbs. So if you look after this person you would be rewarded immensely – hence  we greeted strangers and fed the poor all in the quest to meet Laylat Al-Qadr. Our childish mentality filled with imaginations and sense of mystery – Laylat Al-Qadr nights were playful and hopeful nights filled with wild stories of this myth and the encounters of the angel on earth.

The Sweetness of the East African Ramadan of My Childhood


As Ramadan gradually slipped away, preparation to say farewell to the honourable guest started with an enthusiasm equal to its arrival. The shopping for clothes was an important part of ‘Eid – one had to  have everything new or at least some new things.

The house would have new furnishings too. Some years it would also be painted and decorated. It is only now as an adult when Ramadan comes to an end I get overwhelmingly sad, but as a child the end of Ramadan meant ‘Eid was here!

With the same joy we celebrated the sighting of the moon on the start of Ramadan, we also celebrated the sighting of the moon as it ended. We would sing, shout and play the drums to welcome the new moon, to say goodbye to Ramadan and welcome ‘Eid!

The Sweetness of the East African Ramadan of My Childhood

That night, there was very little sleep to be had as one must have henna on their hands, get their hair oiled, rolled and ready to be set in the morning. I remember I would not sleep until I saw my new dress hanging on the door with shoes and socks neatly tucked under my bed.

I have such fond memories of Ramadan as a child. I loved Ramadan. I loved the feelings of joy it brought within the home and the community at large. As an adult, living far from where I grew up and enjoyed every Ramadan in my youth, I now tap into my memories just to feel the warmth and the joy of the Ramadan of my childhood.

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