How we observe Ramadhan in Mombasa

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Women displaying food. Photo credit - Jamila Hassan El-Jabry
Women selling food on the streets of Mombasa. Photo credit - Jamila Hassan El-Jabry
Women selling food on the streets of Mombasa. Photo credit – Jamila Hassan El-Jabry

What is Ramadhan?

Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief. This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The month lasts 29–30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon. Muslim’s fast between dusk and dawn, no water or food can be consumed. Also, it is advisable to spend all free time doing worship through prayers and supplications.

In most traditional houses, the women cook for their families various meals, called Iftar. Each Muslim community have their special snacks that are prepared. It is advised by the prophet to break the fast with an odd number of dates, so either 1,3 or 5 and a cup of water. Mostly people go pray and then resume the Iftar.

Mombasa Traditions
Mombasa being the second largest city in Kenya, has the highest Muslim population. It’s original Arabic name is Manbasa. In Kiswahili, it is called “Kisiwa Cha Mvita”, which means “Island of War” due to the many changes in its ownership. The majority of inhabitants being Omani Arabs, Yemeni arabs and Muslim of Asian origins.

In Mombasa, a tradition passed on by generation and generations is every evening between 4pm and dusk; food vendors align themselves from Markiti to Bonden selling varieties of coastal snacks at affordable prices. The residents of Mombasa call it Al-Arsa meaning varieities of food in Arabic.

Snacks sold during Ramadhan to be eaten after breaking the fast. Photo credit - Jamila Hassan El-Jabry
Snacks sold during Ramadhan to be eaten after breaking the fast. Photo credit – Jamila Hassan El-Jabry

People eat various coastal traditional meals, such as Muhogo wa nazi(cassava in coconut) mbaazi ya tuwi ya nazi including Mahambri and chapati. Each family have their different menus depending on family favorites. The tradition is to mix salty meal and sugary snack to complement each other. My favourite snack is kaimati because of the sweet taste after a long day of fasting. One bite of it gives you energy because of the sugar. Here is a recipe for making Kaimati.

While women are cooking, it is permissible to taste the food with the tongue but avoid swallowing the food it nullifies the fast.

Women displaying food. Photo credit - Jamila Hassan El-Jabry
Women displaying food. Photo credit – Jamila Hassan El-Jabry

In addition after Iftar, some families go out walking they call it “kushukisha uji” this is a old tradition because in the olden times people breakfast with traditional porridge. Due to the nature of not eating the whole day and feasting in the evening causing discomfort in the stomach, it was advisable to go for a walk to assist in digestion.

There is a prayer at 9pm, called Taraweh which is optional it goes for about an hour with multiple small breaks.

Also, at the end of Ramadhan Muslim celebrate the fasting called Eid day, to prepare this most shop owners open their shops after nine pm to midnight during Ramadhan. All the streets and shops are illuminated by hanging lights to declare the shopping season.

As much as there are changes in Mombasa, a lot of traditions stay the same year after year passed on by generations. Each year the city of Mombasa changes when the Moon is sighted to announce the beginning of Ramadhan.

For more pictures and stories on how Muslims at the coast are observing Ramadhan go to lifeinmombasa.com

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