Makkah and Ramadan: A historical relationship

RIYADH. July 17. KAZINFORM Ramadan naturally steers the mind and spirit to the two holy cities of Islam, Makkah Al-Mukarramah and Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah. Both cities hold special places in the hearts of Muslims all year around, but something about Ramadan just makes these sanctuaries extra special.

Ramadan is a month of worship, a month of peace, a month of bonding with loved ones and a month of closeness to the Almighty. It is a month of celebration all over the world for all Muslims and there is a history behind every family's experience with Ramadan and traditions that continue to grow with every new generation.

Um Mohammed is the head of her family and loves to hang onto her traditional roots going back to Makkah. Having been born and raised in the holy city, she recalls many traditions that took place and that she tries to keep alive until this day by passing them onto her nieces and nephews and grandchildren.

"My father was a businessman who traded in fabric, as did his brothers and many male members of our family. My mother was a stay-at-home wife, as were most women at that time. Ramadan would bring us together and throughout the month, our parents would teach each and every one of my brothers and sisters values and traits that we still remember."

"We lived in an alley called "Zugag Al Hajar," meaning stone alley, in front of the Prophet's Gate, one of the few gates of the Grand Mosque at the time. It was named as such because the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, would walk out of that very door into the alley way, or so everyone says."

She remembers that they would be told that the holy month is upon them through a messenger spreading the word throughout the city since there was no radio in those days.

Sambosa dough would be made ahead of time, Zamzam water would be brought and placed in a special cooler made from special terracotta mud and dates would cleaned and organized in special plates.

Dates remains meal time must-haves until this day, as is wheat berry soup. Many Hejazi families still hold onto these traditions, for they are a symbol of simpler times.

There was no school during Ramadan, so children would spend the month solely for worship and reading the Holy Qur'an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

In addition, government agencies would not only operate after the Ramadan Taraweeh prayers.

Hasan S.R., Um Mohammed's brother, also remembers how matters were much simpler in his early years.

"Every day, we would hear the cannon blast from the Al-Ajyad Fortress up on the hilltop overlooking the Grand Mosque in time for Maghreb prayers. The call would come from the "Mekbareya," the place from where the Athan would be called, on top of the Zamzam well inside the Grand Mosque. A cannon from the Al-Ajyad Fortress would then be launched for everyone to hear. That very same cannon would wake us for fajr prayers as well. There was an extra cannon blast that came before the call for fajr, which was meant to wake fasters up to drink water before dawn. In those days, families would sleep after Taraweeh until it was time for the pre-dawn mean, unlike how it is nowadays."
Our table would consist of a plate of sambosa with meat, different juices, especially sobyah (a drink made of wheat which has been soaked in water for a day or two; some use stale bread and raisins as well). There would also be berry juice. The most famous sobyah in Makkah was Saeed Khodary's. Foul (brown bean mash) garnished with olive oil, parsley, cumin, tomatoes an onions was named "the Prince of the Table". The same food would be served for both iftar and sahoor, with a few additions every now and then. Simple meals were highly recommended throughout the month in order to make it easier for people to pray, stay healthy and enjoy light meals.

Many families would head to markets that sell ice and dates before Maghreb prayers.

Each family would head to their nearest local market. Souq Al Ma'alaa was situated north of the city, Souq Al-Mas'aa was located in the center and Souq Al-Sagheer was found in the south. All three markets sold the finest of dates and the best of locally made "sobyah" and ice, for there were no fridges in those days. There were only ice boxes to keep the produce fresh to use the next day. In many of Makkah's famous alleyways, vendors would place their tables and sell the finest of cheeses, olives, Syrian sweets and delights and pickles as well, especially ambah or pickled mango slices.

Makkan families are well-known for their kindness and hospitality and Ramadan is a time when this is most apparent. The month is said to be divided into three parts, the first for "butchers," the second for the "tailors" and the third for "cloth dealers." It was divided as such according to the needs of local families for Eid. "Our father would head out after Taraweeh prayers to his store, as did the traders, the government workers and business owners. Business thrived only at night. This way, everyone was sure to commit to acts of worship during the day. It's different now. Everyone is in a hurry to meet friends and only care about the TV shows that have inundated TV channels," says Um Mohammed.

She remembers a time when there weren't as many female gatherings, as women tended to be more domesticated. Neighbors would share mealtime elements such as soup or dessert. Rarely would there be large gatherings in those days. "Our parents were strict back then, as were all the families living in Makkah."
As "steta" (what the eldest sibling would be called by the younger siblings) said, our time was almost always dedicated to worship. The rest of the time, we would either help out our mother or sit with our father and listen to him tell stories" says Hasan.

One of Makkah's most well-known traditions is preparing local houses to host Umrah pilgrims. Each home had an extension specifically built for housing pilgrims, as there were no hotels to stay in. Host families were called "motawifeen." The spirituality could be felt all over the calm city and a spirit of giving was felt. The host family would provide visitors with essential tools in the kitchen and basic needs in the bedroom and living room area. Such is a tradition that has been alive for many decades and goes back to the days of the Prophet Muhammad.

Many of our elders remember Ramadan to be a very special time of the year. Nowadays, they recall the beauty of those days by surrounding themselves with family members and loved ones. Ramadan is a great time to forgive and forget, rekindle old friendships and exercise humility with one another.


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