This year, Ramadan 2018 began on Thursday, 17th May in South Africa, as the crescent moon was seen on the evening of 16th May easily by naked eye. A Cape Town tradition is for the “moon watchers” to look for the new moon and once found, this indicates the start of the new Islamic month in Cape Town.
It is a month of the Islamic lunar calendar that is dedicated to spiritual matters. It is a time when Muslims refrain from eating during daylight hours as an act of sacrifice that reminds them of the challenges of the poor.
After the sunset prayer, Muslims gather in their homes or mosques for a meal called iftar that is often shared with friends and extended family and Muslim neighbourhoods come to life with different activities. Muslims commonly break the fast by consuming dates and water with their loved ones.
Eating and celebrating often continues long into the evening. There are additional prayers offered at night called the tawareeḥ prayers, preferably performed in congregation at the mosque. During these prayers, the entire Qurʾan may be recited over the course of the month of Ramadan.
Being a multi-ethnic country, South Africa only possesses about less than 5% of Muslims out of the total population. Some hotels and restaurants take great advantage of the fasting month by preparing special meals for the Muslim customers. Ramadan, for the Capetonian, is all about spiritual enhancement complemented with calming ambiance contradicting the hectic routine life of the rest of the year, thus, Ramadan is eagerly awaited by all Muslims in Cape Town.
Your experience of Ramadan in Cape Town depends largely on where you travel. The City is a melting pot of religions with Christianity the majority religion, so many areas aren’t noticeably affected. However, if you travel in the southern suburbs, such as Athlone, Lansdowne, Mitchells Plain as well as the CBD, it’s a different story. It is there that the Muslim population is concentrated, so Ramadan has a much bigger impact. The same is true of Muslim pockets in other suburbs and towns including Strand and Paarl.
Even though travelling during Ramadan might be trickier than at other times of the year, it also presents an opportunity to have an immersive and interesting cultural experience. The Bo-Kaap museum, located in Wale Street showcases the rich history of this landmark Cape-Malay area of Cape Town as well as how the Muslim community developed throughout the years.
The History of Islam in South Africa:
Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Kadi Abdus Salaam, known as Tuan Guru, was a Prince from Indonesia. He traces his genealogy to the Sultan of Morocco and his ancestry to that of the holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was brought to Cape Town on 6 April 1780 as a “state prisoner” and incarcerated on Robben Island.
While imprisoned on Robben Island, Tuan Guru wrote several copies of the Holy Qur’an from memory.
On his release from Robben Island in 1793, he went to live in Dorp Street (Bo-Kaap), Cape Town. Here he established a madrasah (religious school) at the Cape. This was the first madrasah to be established in this country and proved extremely popular among the slaves and the Free Black community. It played an important role in converting many slaves to Islam. In 1795 he built Auwal Masjid, the first mosque to be established in South Africa. Tuan Guru is buried at the Tana Baru compound on Signal Hill/Bo-Kaap.
Call to prayer / Athan:
You may have heard the Call to prayer from the loudspeakers of a mosque’s minaret, in the Arabic language. The Athan is done by a member of the congregation and signals the time for Muslims to come to the mosque to pray. Visit the Bo-Kaap during sunset to experience the overlapping call to prayer from 10 different mosques in this close-knit community.
Situated on the slopes of Signal Hill above the city center, Bo-Kaap is one of the oldest and the most fascinating residential areas in the South African city of Cape Town. The area is characterized by brightly coloured homes and romantic cobble stoned streets that date back to the 18th century. One of the oldest shops in Cape Town is Atlas, the spice shop of choice for locals and travellers.
What is Halaal food:
Muslims choose to eat halaal food because it meets requirements that they believe make it suitable for consumption. Halaal originates from rules set out in the Qur’an and the Hadith (the Prophet Muhammad’s example), which have been followed throughout generations of Islamic practice.
For Muslim consumers, knowing how the food was produced is an important consideration.
As a concept, halaal does not only pertain to food. Halaal means “permissible” and can refer to any aspect of life covered by the teachings of Islam. Halaal is a part of sharia as a system of morals to guide Muslims’ actions and behaviour.
Why is halaal certification needed?
In this sense, halaal certification is similar to any type of food certification and audit system. Whether it be halaal, kosher, gluten-free or organic, food certification services help consumers to make informed decisions about the food they eat. For non-Muslim consumers, however, halaal food is little different to any other food available. It only matters whether food is halaal, if a person has the religious conviction and desire to eat only halaal food.
My Top 10 Halaal restaurants in Cape Town:
• 126 Cape Kitchen & Café at the Hilton Hotel – CBD
• Wembley Road House – Landsdown
• Atlantic Express – Seapoint
• Eastern Food Bazaar -CBD
• Bo-Kaap kombuis – CBD
• Saray Restaurant – CBD
• Woodies Burgers – V&A Waterfront
• Taj Mahal – Houtbay
• On the Square at the Capetonian Hotel
• Mesopotamia – CBD
Also remember that Ramadan isn’t just about denying oneself for one’s own spiritual development, it also has a moral aspect to it. Apart from praying more often, Muslims also focus on performing acts of generosity and kindness, by providing community services, buying gifts and taking time out to help those in need. One way you can get on board is by engaging in similar acts yourself.
If you happen to know any locals, be sure to offer to help them in any way you can. If you don’t, then think about seeking out a local charity and offering them some money or food or voluntary help.
Nakhlistan, a local charity organisation, started operating in Cape Town 33 years ago and this year they aim to cook 169 x 130lt pots of Aknie to feed over 85 000 of the less fortunate. Every person who has the means to make an impact on the less fortunate is encouraged to perform this act of charity, especially during the month of Ramadan.
Here are 5 remarkable charities to support in Cape Town: Gift of the Givers, Islamic Relief, Muslim Hands, SANZAF and Al-Imdaad Foundation to name a few. These organisations have various fields of focus, including orphans, building water wells, food aid and education for children. Donations can be made online, in kind or by volunteering.
The end of the Ramadan fast is celebrated as Eid al-Fitr, the “Feast of Fast-Breaking,” which is one of the two major religious holidays of the Muslim calendar. Living as a Muslim, wherever you are, and the core of Ramadan celebration is only one which is to get closer to the creator, Allah s.w.t. The different customs and traditions worldwide is just a symbol or way of a culture in a certain country welcoming and celebrating the holy month of Ramadan.
We all can learn something from the diversity of Cape Town’s residents, that is for sure.