Ramadan in Cape Town: an interview with Fatima Allie

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Fatima Allie (Photo: Izak de Vries)

Fatima, many of our non-Muslim local and international readers may not be familiar with Ramadan. What does Ramadan entail? Also, what do the terms associated with Ramadan mean: Eid Mubarak, Eidul Fitr, Iftaar, boeka, etc.

Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar and it is not only the month in which Muslims abstain from food and drink from before sunrise to just after sunset.

It is the month in which the Holy Qur’aan was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). Ramadan is the month of caring, sharing and also spiritual cleansing and upliftment. Our conduct during Ramadan is a yardstick as to how we should always be living our lives, in the service of humanity.

The first 10 days: mercy
The second 10 days: forgiveness
The last 10 days: seek refuge in Allah from the Hellfire.

From a young age, Muslim children start fasting for half a day and then graduate to full days. The Islamic calendar follows the lunar calendar and is shorter than the Gregorian year, hence Ramadan is 10 days earlier every year. So in a span of a lifetime, a Muslim would have experienced Ramadan in all seasons of the year!

So Ramadan is part of our lives. We fast during summer, winter, spring and autumn. Ramadan is a time period and it is welcomed by Muslims all over the world. Ramadan is a blessing.

It teaches us how the needy and less fortunate feel when they are hungry and thirsty. It teaches us to soften our hearts and be more compassionate towards our fellow humans.

When the moon for Ramadan is sighted, we all say “Ramadan Kareem” (“Blessings upon you during Ramadan”). Cape Malays use the term Pwaasa, also denoting the month of Ramadan.

Eidul Fitr is the day of celebration after fasting for 29/30 days. We normally say “Eid Mubarak” or “Slamat vir Labarang”.

Boeka is the Malay term we use when we eat just after sunset. The other term we use is Iftaar, the Arabic word when we break our fast just after sunset.

Oppie Berg is the term we use when we fast for 15 days, and we serve boebr [refer to the next question and answer for a description] on this night.

Muslims pray five times a day and during Ramadan there are special night prayers that are performed and it is called Taraweeg, but in Cape Town we say “Traawie”.

The sick, the elderly, menstruating women, pregnant and breastfeeding women do not fast. They pay an alms called Fidyaa and will “pay in” their days after the month of Ramadan before the next Ramadan.

Ramadan also possesses a night called Laytaul Qadr, “a night more powerful than a 1 000 months”. We search for this night during the last ten-odd nights of Ramadan. When Ramadan comes to an end, it is a sad occasion and we all make Du’ah (supplicate) that we are granted the gift of the next Ramadan In Shaa Allah (God willing).

Is there anything about Ramadan that is specific to Cape Town / South Africa (eg boeka in the Bo-Kaap, regional recipes, etc)?

Boeka time is very special in Cape Town. I remember as children we would wait for the light at the mosque to be switched on, then we would shout “Waktoe!” (“Time!”).

We break our fast with dates and water and special “koekies” are made. The koekies will be pancakes, various fritters, chilli bites, samoosas and half moons. Soup is also served. Everyone sits at the table and breaks their fast as families. Before boeka, children will take boeka plates to neighbours so this is where the culture of sharing and caring comes in.

Fritters are a mixture of sugar, butter, eggs, flour, vanilla essence, pumpkin, sweetcorn, bananas etc and they are fried in shallow oil and served with cinnamon sugar.

Boebr is a milk, sago, lokshen, sugar and rose water dish with cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. As a garnish you add slivered almonds! Street boekas have also been introduced and the Bo-Kaap also hosted one on 31 May 2019.

Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town (Photo: SkyPixels [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

What Cape Muslim Afrikaans words are used in general (eg kanala and tramakassie), but also specifically during Ramadan?

Ramadan terms include: Boeka (when we break fast), Traawie (night prayers), Pwaasa (fasting), Fitrah (alms that each Muslim has to pay during the month of Ramadan), Fitrah parcels (given to the needy and less fortunate), Zakaah (2,5% alms payable on earnings to be given to the poor), Bilal Bang (Athaan or call to prayer five times per day), Labarang (Eid).

Words used all the time: kanala (please), tramakassie (thank you), slamat (congratulations), soembaaing (pray), Gadat (prayer evening), abdas (ablution), Assalaamu Alaykum (I greet you in the name of Peace).

What are the practices involving Ramadan, and can non-Muslims participate?

Muslims pray five times a day and during Ramadan there is extra/added Solaahs that can be performed. Non-Muslims are welcome into our homes and mosques at any time, not only during the month of Ramadan.

Our non-Muslim friends can fast with us; they can help cook food for distribution during the month. They can help pack Fitrah parcels for distribution to the needy. There is so much they can participate in. Ramadan lends itself to a spiritual awakening for everyone.

What are the biggest challenges and/or stereotypes the Muslim community faces in Cape Town / South Africa?

Muslims are unfortunately linked to “fundamentalism” and “terrorism”. However, in Cape Town there is a fantastic relationship among People of the Book. We have Christian and Jewish friends and we all understand one another and this makes for a good community. As Muslims we have an ambassadorial role to play.

Currently there is a noise complaint that was lodged against the Call to Prayer at the Muir Street Mosque in District 6. This is by far an isolated event. The community of both Muslims and non-Muslims are standing as one to oppose this complaint.

I would say that the biggest challenge is that Muslims need to be more proud of who they are. They should embrace their heritage, language and culture, and this will allow us to achieve the abundance that is so needed in our communities.

Please tell us more about the Nakhlistan Eidul Fitr Cooking / Eidul Fitr Feeding Scheme.

In 1984 Shukoor Mowzer and two friends realised that in his neighbourhood there were many Muslims who were fasting during the month of Ramadan but who did not have food to break their fast with at night.

This saddened him so much that he decided to cook food for the day of Eidul Fitr. This is the day of celebration for Muslims after 29/30 days of fasting the Month of Ramadan. This is how Nakhlistan started.

Nakhlistan is a Persian word that means “oasis”/“sustenance”, and just like an oasis provides sustenance in the desert, Nakhlistan provides sustenance to the needy in the Western Cape on the day of Eidul Fitr (Wednesday, 5 June 2019).

In 1984 only two small pots of food were cooked and now, 35 years down the line, Nakhlistan will be cooking 169 x 130-litre pots of aknie* to feed over 85 000 of the less fortunate in the Western Cape for distribution on the day of Eidul Fitr.

I am the PRO of Nakhlistan and I love what I do. We collect funds at No 45 Murton Road in Rylands Estate and what a wonderful, giving community we have. The cooking of 169 pots of food is a sight to behold.

Knowing that you are part of the feeding of over 85 000 of the needy in the Western Cape is a spiritually wonderful experience.

This is what Ramadan brings out in people – the goodness that is already there.

*Aknie is an aromatic spiced meat, rice and potato dish.

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