Above, colonial era postcard of Sufi orders in Khartoum welcoming Ramadan (G.N.Morhig, The English Pharmacy, Khartoum). The name for the ninth month of the Islamic calendar has pre-Islamic origins. Associated with a time of great heat in the pre-Islamic solar calendar, it was believed holy as one of the months of truce before the advent of Islam.
(Source; Dr. Ahmad Al-Safi).
Ramadan Greetings 2022 – Poems and Prose from Sudan
Breaking the daily fast with neighbours and passers-by.
Women’s Education Partnership wishes our supporters – and Sudanese everywhere – joy, peace and blessings this Holy Month of Ramadan 2022. This week’s post is dedicated to poetry and prose on the Holy Month by both Sudanese and non-Sudanese writers. Next week, we publish a Ramadan Message from our director and her team in Khartoum.
Ramadan in Sudan – from Dawn to Dusk
Setting the Scene; Food for the Fasting
Dawn to Dusk
Setting the Scene – Food for the Fasting
For so many Sudanese, especially those living far from their homeland, the aromatic, spice-laden tang of hilu-murr is among their defining childhood memories of Ramadan.
Above, flakes of hilu-murr drying in the late afternoon sun. When soaked, the flakes make a refreshing Ramadan iftar (fast-breaking) drink. It is complex and fragrant with spices such as “ginger, ghurungal, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, black cumin, black pepper, cloves, hilba, habba-han, and decoction of karkade (hibiscus)”. The sorghum and spice mixture is fermented, often with date gruel, and baked into flakes which are soaked in water for two hours, strained and sweetened before serving. (Sudanese Traditional Medicine, Ahmad Al-Safi.)
Watch hilu-murr being made in A Bitter-Sweet Ramadan 2021
Hilu-murr is just one of the many restorative Ramadan drinks served at nightfall to break a long day’s fast.
Above, an excerpt from Women of Omdurman, Anne Cloudsley,1984.
Photo, dates at Souq Al-Arabi, Khartoum.
Above, ingredients of abray, a Ramadan drink similar to hilu murr (text; Dr Ahmed al-Safi)
For the US-based Sudanese poet and writer, Safia Elhillo, the “crushed and stained” hibiscus juice she drinks as a nine-year-old at Ramadan is her child self’s “first adornment” as she strives to negotiate her place among the community of women that surrounds, sustains and unnerves her.
Read the rest of the poem here: Narrative Northeast
And you can enjoy more of her work in “Everything that is lost will be given a name”
Ramadan is a time of plenty – family moments and food shared. Yet this is a bounty tempered by something solemn, transformative even:
“This was part of the charm of Ramadan, turning day into night, treats of mixed nuts, dried apricots and dates. Badr did not begrudge his family any delicacies. Every day he went to the souq and every day Haniyyah cooked delicious meals and satisfying puddings. It was a month of plenty, and he marvelled at how rigourous it was, and at the same time buoyant; solemn, and at the same time merry, with the children playing football in the street by the light of Ramadan lanterns.” Left, Ramadan dates, biscuits and nuts.
An excerpt from Leila Aboulela’s Lyrics Alley, quoted here with her kind permission.
For Faiza El-Higzi, Ramadan is the month rounded by mercy. It is a source of profound spiritual sustenance:
“In the folds of my memory something stirs: a childhood hero of mine, a female Sufi mystic of high birth who shunned the mundane and lived by the side of a river, in mystic devotion. Lines etched in my memory are released to me from her Sufi mystic poetry. And I enjoy their effect on me: I hold two loves for thee/ Devotional, and a love worthy of thee / The first is, as I think of none but thee/ The second is an anticipation of seeing thee / Neither did I find without your grace to me! The texture, contours and complexity of this mystic poem are mind bending and delicious. Mercy as the experience of family, the feeling a loss that humanizes, and the grace of love. And that is just the beginning.” Right, a worshipper at the Hamed El-Nil Friday dhikr swathing herself in purifying incense.
Above, Ramadan collage. Photo credits; top left, still from Al-Ain TV; communities breaking the fast together and offering food to all who pass by. Bottom left, A Sudanese woman prepares kisra, wafer-thin bread, Wikipedia,(cc), Mohamed Elfatih Hamadien. Kisra is often served with Ramadan stews. More on kisra and Sudanese stews in coming posts. Watch an annotated Sudanese Arabic interview with a Kisra Lady in Sitt al-Kisra.
Other photos, my own or from Dreamsline.co, under contract; sunset prayers to the backdrop of the Meroe pyramids, sunrise over Khartoum and prayer caps for sale in Souq al-Arabi.
Learn more about Ramadan in Sudan in the visually stunning Aljazeera documentary, annotated in English:
Ramadan in Sudan – from Dawn to Dusk
Dawn to Dusk
Dawn; Guns and the Musahharaati
Writing in the late 1920s, the British doctor Allan Worsley recalls gazing at a still, starlit Omdurman sky as the night edged towards dawn and the “great fast begins”.
Land of the Blue Veil, Cornish Brothers Ltd, 1940, p189-193.
The inclusion of this colonial source should not be understood as approval of any form of colonial or imperialist exercise of power, whatever its religious or cultural origin.
“In the labyrinth of courtyards”, Worsley continues: “below, everything is bustle and stir. Fires are being lighted, and the crackling flares of brushwood throw flickering shadows against the high mud walls.There’s a rattle of pots and pans to an accompaniment of high-pitched voices……Suddenly the night is rent by a terrific detonation. Although I have been awaiting it, it takes me unawares. El-Fatoor, the first of the morning guns fired by a beneficent government, ensures that the gentler warnings of the early morning watchman have not passed unheeded by the slothful….Now comparative silence reigns while the people hurry through the meal. A cock crows, a camel snarls, and, in the distance, a donkey brays. Somewhere out in the desert, a dog is yelping. A subdued hum of conversation floats up from the honeycomb of courts. Three-twenty, three twenty-five, three-thirty. It is still pitch dark when Es-Suhoor, the second gun, shakes the city to its foundations, The day of Fast has begun!”
Right, Sudanese musaHHaraati (waker-uppers). Despite the advent of alarm clocks and mobiles, the role of musaHHaraati in the Muslim world has endured. Often banging jerrycans and pans, rather than drums in Sudan, they awaken the fasting in time for the pre-dawn meal.
“A child accompanies them, carrying a lantern or fanous. He will have a book with the names of the inhabitants and will knock at the door with a stick, call out the names of the head of the family and tell him: Ya Ebadallah, Wahhiduddayen, Ramadan kareem.” Meet the Mesaharaty; Ramadan’s traditional pre-dawn drummer Photo; uaemoments.com. Below more scenes of the musaHHaraati in Khartoum from What If
Worsley, a skeptical colonial observer, closes his chapter on Ramadan by acknowledging:
As the long fasting day unfolds, for the faithful, the leaden weight of physical weariness distills minute by minute into glimpses of the timeless and the eternal. The ceaseless flow of life’s river as Tayib Salih recalls, mysteriously stayed:
My thanks to Leila Aboulela for this quotation.
Dusk; Prayer and Compassion
Ramadan is a time of contemplation; a time to take measure of ourselves:
“Another break and three munshideen started to recite Sufi poetry. Through the Sudanese accent, Badr recognized the words of his compatriot, Umar ibn al-Farid. Compared to my dawn, / the long day’s light is like a flash; / next to my drinking place, / the wide ocean is a drop. / Didn’t he know all this? In a day of suffering in the world, an hour was nothing in the long run. Must he need reminding, time and time again? Like the Sudanese sun drying wet cotton, bleaching it with its rays, he felt his sluggish mood evaporating, his irritation and anger giving way to lightness. He would go home now refreshed, his energy replenished, his armour strengthened. After the taraweeh, the men ate their dinner….”
Excerpt from Lyrics Alley, quoted with permission of the author, Leila Aboulela.
Photo credit, as above.
It is also a time of consolation, a consolation borne of acts of generosity. The North Kordofani folktale below captures the healing generosity inspired by Ramadan.
There is a story that once during the fast of Ramadan, guests came to a village. As sunset approached, people prepared to break the fast together in front of their houses as is the custom. The sheikh quickly went to the nearest house with the guests. That house was simple and its inhabitants were poor. From that house, a young boy brought a jug with many cups and only one dish on a tray. He distributed cups of water with great passion to the guests and made them feel welcome. The person telling the story said that he had been ill for a long time with a stomach ailment and had received medication in Khartoum and had even been to Jordan for treatment. God had certainly wanted him to be at that iftar feast. When the boy brought the drink it was hilo murr, a fermented grain drink without sugar, and the kisra had only water, onions, salt and oil to eat with it and no sauce. The man said, ” As we were eating, I thought about the poor circumstances of that family and out of compassion for them, decided not to eat dishes brought to the iftar by other villagers.” Later he said, “I only ate that dish and not a single other thing that day. Praise be to God, from that moment on my stomach is well and it never felt poorly again after that.” Indeed, giving from the depth of one’s heart is a blessing with its own wonders.”
From Sand in My Eyes, Sudanese Moments, by Enikö Nagy, p470.
“There used to be a meal between us but today there is a sea”
The Sudanese have always welcomed the stranger with great kindness and especially so at Ramadan. In recent years, economic hardship, political unrest and the trauma of life as refugees have strained to the limit the Sudanese capacity to honour Ramadan as they would wish.
I close this week’s post with Emi Mahmoud’s 2019 poem in English and Arabic, How am I to Celebrate?
“In the middle of Awlad al-reef / there was a bakery that brought fresh bread at dawn, / biscuits for the morning tea, / the taste of thyme, sesame and coriander, / the smell of stew on the neighbor’s stove…….”
More of Emi Mahmoud’s powerful work in “Two Fistfuls of Hope”