Ramadan in South Africa

About the interviewee

I am a South African Muslim woman born and raised in the coastal city of Durban. I am currently a student pursuing a Bachelor of Education Degree with the intention of teaching English abroad in the future. Travelling Muslimah has been my brand for the last four years, it was created in my early teens to help Muslim travelers with tips and guides for certain destinations. I have always been passionate about traveling, its something that has really inspired me throughout my life. Giving travel advice has become a hobby using my Instagram page – @travellingmuslimah, travellingmuslimah@gmail.com.

South Africa is a diverse country whereby Muslims make up only 2% of the population. I am particularly grateful to the government for giving us the religious freedom that we have in comparison to other countries in the world. We have a very large group of learned Ulama along with Masjids and Madrassahs across the country.

1. Tell us a little bit about how Muslims in South Africa prepare for Ramadan? Is there anything they do specifically before the first day of Ramadan?

The biggest preparation would be savories (variety of finger food comprised of samosas, pies, spring rolls, etc). Ask any South African Muslim woman and she will tell you about how she must prepare all her savories before Ramadan, it is a very important process in all households. Butcheries and supermarkets are filled with people weeks in advance to stock up for preparations.

Islamic institutes all distribute Ramadan calendars while masjids prepare their list of huffaz (memorizers of the Quran) to lead the Tarawih prayer. Spiritually preparing oneself before Ramadan is an integral part as well, many masjids and Muslim woman groups organize small discussions about the month of Ramadan and its importance.

2. How would you describe the overall Ramadan spirit in South Africa? Does it have a different feeling on the streets when you go out in Ramadan?

There is not much of a spirit felt on the streets as the Muslim population is small however it is felt at the masjid with iftar and Tarawih, Islamic schools, and Muslim run businesses. Often working hours and school days are shortened to create more time for worship. Mass iftars across the country take place which brings an amazing vibe, particularly in the Bo Kaap area in Cape Town where people have Iftar on the street.

3. How does a typical iftar would look like?

There are many cultures in South Africa so iftar may differ, I come from a South African Indian background as are many Muslims living in Durban. Typically, the men have iftar at the masjid with basic dates and water and some masjids prepare a variety of finger foods as well. The woman folk has iftar at home and after Maghrib salah, the men return home to have dinner together as a family. Family members like to get together to have iftar since it is a joyous time. Many restaurants have special iftar deals as well, particularly in Durban, we have a large selection of halal restaurants.

4. How does a typical suhur (suhoor) would look like?

Each household differs in terms of their preferences, some enjoy a full course meal while others stick to a basic breakfast. During the weekends, some restaurants are opened till late to accommodate an early Suhoor meal.

5. Is there any food or drink that is specifically consumed in Ramadan? Yes, please tell us about the deserts.

Specifically for iftar, savories, Haleem (a traditional soup dish), dates, Zam Zam water, and the traditional Bombay Crush milkshake. Post tarawih desserts are a must, every year they try out the trending dessert of the year, last year was the Mesh Om Ali inspired by CleoButtera.

6. How do people celebrate Eid al-Fitr?

A special experience for both Eid and Ramadan is the sighting of the moon in Cape Town, where people know as the ‘maankykers’ which means moon watchers in Afrikaans, go out to sight the moon with the naked eye.

Eid preparations then begin, and men often go to the graveyard to pray for their loved ones. The next morning, everyone dresses in their best outfits and after Fajr Salaah, the men attend mass Eid Congregation salaah across the country.

The entire day thereafter is spent with loved ones mostly eating and visiting each other. Everyone exchanges gifts and it is a day of celebration.

7. What makes South Africa special in Ramadan? Tell us about any activities, festivals, bazaars, etc.

The unity of the Muslim community, everyone gets together to do charity programs specifically in Ramadan because the reward is multiplied.

There are also Ramadan fairs held at different times of the month showcasing food stalls, clothing, nasheeds, and kids’ entertainment.

8. What should travelers expect to experience if they visit South Africa in Ramadan?

I would not think South Africa really caters to tourists during Ramadan however, iftar and Tarawih at a popular masjid is something I would recommend for a male traveler.

Attend a mass Iftar. Visit an area called Overport in Durban, you will feel the Ramadan vibe on the roads and at the shops.

9. If I were visiting South Africa in Ramadan, where would be the best place to have iftar?

If you are male, then definitely a masjid, however, many restaurants have iftar specials. There are a variety of halal restaurants to choose from.

10. Anything else you want to share about Ramadan in South Africa?

The month of Ramadan goes by so fast and I think the majority of us try to make the most of the month spiritually and in the path of Allah. We take time out to give extra charity, spend more time reciting the Quran, and attending Islamic motivational talks which are offered relatively often during the month of Ramadan.

This year is going to be very different from our usual plans in South Africa. Due to the Covid-19, our country will be on lockdown for a portion of Ramadan and if need be, till Eid. This means the normal Ramadan routine will not be possible due to a lack of access to the masjids or mass gatherings as a result of the virus. However, these measures are all temporary and are for the safety of our citizens.

And finally, feel free to share your message with your fellow Muslim brothers and sisters around the world.

May Allah grant us the best of health and ease during these hard times, Ameen.

Please remember me in your duas during the blessed month of Ramadan.

Take Care & Stay Safe

Travelling Muslimah

RAMADAN 2020 PROJECT: Fellow sisters and brothers around the world joined Halal Travel Experts to spread the joy and knowledge of Ramadan. To become a part of this exciting project, email us at blog@halaltravels.com. It is just 10 simple questions but the answers go beyond the oceans.

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