The term Mawlid is also used in some parts of the world, such as Egypt, as a generic term for the birthday celebrations of other historical religious figures such as Sufisaints. It is not a part of Islam as a faith, but rather a cultural practice.
In Kiswahili it is Maulidi, and this year the siku kuu fell on a Saturday, though we'd all hoped for Friday.
In Kisutu in central Dar es Salaam the Maulidi celebration was in full swing last Monday.
I'm writing you as I want to tell you that it is completely normal in Tanzania, and that I was the only person in the street paying attention to it.
Probably because I'm Danish.
Probably because I'm absolutely fed up with the blurred debate in Denmark on women wearing veils or burkas, or not, the debate on mosques, on Islam, Muslims and on how Danish politicians treat refugees and immigrants. I am sick and tired, and deeply embarrased on how Danish values have been redefined into something I can't associate with.
I asked the parking guard if I could take her photo, as I wanted to prove to the Danes supporting the policies of the Danish People's Party, that at this end of the world, a famous 3rd world country, it is possible for a woman to wear a veil while holding a position as a civil servant.
Saturday was the first day of the Ramadhan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar where the Muslims fast, initially in order to concentrate on reaching a higher degree of patience, modesty and spirituality. Amongst others. In Dar Es Salaam, a Muslim friend of mine is hoping that the Ramadhan might help him combat his smoking habit.
In Stone Town during this period of time a lot of restaurants close at day time, and you are advised not to eat or drink in the street when others are going through the hardship of fasting. At 18.32 yesterday, the fast was broken, and eating was allowed. I know for certain, as yesterday evening I was sitting in the car of Isidori with his cousin brother, Hamisi, and our common Italian friend, Simona. We were stopping to buy passion juice in a little duka at the outskirts of Stone Town on the way to Isidori’s home where dinner awaited us, when we heard the call for the fourth prayer of the day, Maghrib.
Obviously, I feel lucky to be invited inside, to someone’s home. Possibly also due to the fact that I’m Danish. I come from this country in Scandinavia which previously and rather randomly has offended Islam, its culture and its people on several occasions. Most infamously, probably, through the publication of the cartoons, however, less known are all the indirect ways the Danish politicians try to distance Danes as a nation from other cultures and religions which, according to our democratically elected politicians, appear strange.
I do understand the dynamics which occur in your head, when you find yourself in a culture which works completely differently than the one you grew up with, and that this can evoke a certain degree of confusion and fear. But I can’t watch silently when politicians use this fear and confusion to create unnecessary stir, when the politicians move people’s attention from the real problems, or when no proper research is being done.
Last night back in Stone Town on the island of Unguja we celebrated the first meal of the Ramadhan with a Zanzibari family. Not a traditional family, but food wise we certainly went along the classical Zanzibar dishes: We had mhugo wa nasi (cassava with coconut); mwali wa nasi (rice with coconut); pweza wa nasi (octopus with coconut), jodari (tuna) and kaimati (small, sweet and spiced donuts).
And of course, the passion jusi. ‘No beers’, our host smiled and apologised rethorically.
After all, this is the Ramadhan, the holy month, and in spite we deal with young Muslims who declare themselves 'happy muslims', who don't go to the mosque to pray five times, and who refer to their Ramadhan practice with a 'nusu nusu' (half half), they do fast during day time. In my opinion and in regard of the few young Muslims I know, I reckon that trying to do your best to follow the concept of the Ramadhan is in fact not such a bad idea. Researching for this blog post, I read that there is an increasing group on non-Muslims practising fasting, too, during the Ramadhan, pursuing the same aim.
But to be honest, I have no clear, conceptual idea of a good way to get familiar with a new culture which on many levels is far off your own. I was raised in a home where at least one adult throughout life has been voting for the Conservative People's Party and the other for the Liberals ('Venstre' in Danish), but I was also taught to behave politely towards strangers, say 'yes' and 'thank you very much' when offered something, and to greet people with respect. I know for sure that the adults raising me with these values had no idea - what so ever - that I'd be practising these in Zanzibar.
However, I know that there is a lot to learn by observing how others go about it. The majority of wazungu hang out in the regular tourist places, and so would I have done last night, if not for my Italian companion, Simona, who is so much better than me about this. Curiousity is another good thing - apropos trying to figuring out the differences of another culture - my sympathy goes to this guy. Curiousity is probably my main strenght in this perspective.
Our evening ended at the Forodhani Gardens (photo above), which has been renovated with the support from the Aga Khan Foundation, and has finally given Stone Town back its vibe. Zanzibarians were munching food, sugar cane juice and smoking cigarettes. According to the rules of the Ramadhan you must get up before dawn to eat Sahur, the pre-dawn meal, and then perform the fajr prayer. There is no eating or drinking before the call for prayer starts until the fourth prayer of the day, Maghrib. You may continue to eat and drink after the sun has set until the next morning's fajr prayer call.
Basically, it is about getting a routine going and planning. For some people, I guess, it turns day and night around, and probably lowers work efforts in some offices. The Ramadhan is ending at September 19th, and will be marked with an important celebration; Eid Ul-Fitr.
Now, my question is; Who's gonna invite me for this?
Read more about the Ramadhan here, which has also been used as the source for the Ramadhan facts in this blog post.
Glad I am not the only blogger out here who occasionally has had it with the missionaries. However, a lot said on the account on the missionaries, could also be said on the account of Danish development workers.
So, I'll leave it, and pass on the word to the Ugandan Insomniac here.
In Tanzania the population is more less half-half Christian and Muslim, but also Hinduism and a few other religions are practised. Few think of the fact that President Nyerere, who resided over Tanzania for 24 years, was Catholic, or that the present President Kikwete is a Muslim. For sure I never did, till I saw a picture in the newspaper of Kikwete celebrating the Ramadhan last October.
I don't refer to high politics or the religious fanatics, but to the ordinary Tanzanian making daily life in Tanzania work. The girls at the photo (from Picha na Ndege, a small town outside Dar es Salaam) is not a rare sight.
In Tanga I went with a friend for a visit to a clinic run by an Islamic organisation, in many ways similar to a Christian mission station. Here the northern Sudanese director invited us both to visit Kharthoum one day, he being happily unaware of the Sudanese ban of issueing visa for Danish citizens. He also didn't know of the reasoning behind (the controversial Muhammad cartoons), and my friend and I didn't feel a greater urge to go into details. If curious about the cartoon crisis, read more here.
When I watch a group of children in a place like Tanga walking home from school, a mixed school - some girls wearing veils, some not - I can't help wondering what's Denmark's real problem?
Fear? Lack of confidence or awareness of one's grounding or roots?