For most people when you mention Ramadan the association is with fasting from dawn until sunset. There is however far more to this blessed month and so we asked our guide Kokko Ibbe to explain.
Tell us more about Ramadan
Ramadan is always the ninth month of the Islamic calendar but will fall differently in the Gregorian calendar as the Islamic calendar is based on the phases of the moon. In order for Ramadan to start the first sliver of a new crescent moon has to be sighted and therefore it is common for people not to know if they will be fasting the following day until a few hours before! This yearly recognition is viewed as one of the Five Pillars of Islam which forms the foundation of the Islamic faith. Fasting is obligatory for an adult Muslim with the exception of individuals who are experiencing illness, travelling, are elderly people, pregnant or breastfeeding. Those who are unable to fast due to a certain condition still make up the days they have missed at a later date. Whilst fasting Muslims avoid eating, drinking, smoking and having sexual relations. Cafés and restaurants will be closed throughout this period of time, but will be open late in to the night. Our day is almost turned upside down!
Some of you may think how can we not eat and drink for almost 13 hours for a whole month and how do you do it? Well, children start practicing at the age of 7 or 10. It is not a must but the parents should encourage them to do so in order that they can get used to it. Ramadan is not all about fasting though. Ramadan teaches discipline, self-control, showing sympathy to those who are less fortunate than ourselves and offering charity. Caring for your neighbors and friends, putting back the smile on their face. One of the main things most people will surely learn will be forgiveness.
What is Maahefun?
In the week running up to the start of Ramadan, The Maldives has a tradition known as Maahefun. This celebration marks the beginning of Ramadan where traditionally all islanders would gather to have their final meal before fasting. Everyone brings food and juices to share. Family members and friends usually celebrate this festival on the beach or an uninhabited island.
How do you prepare for Ramadan?
Well in the Maldives people take things a bit different than in other countries. One thing which is really traditional will be the painting of the home. In the capital and also in local islands you will find homes painted in an array of different colours. Most people will paint the exterior of their home every 2 years and and internally most probably annually. They get rid of their old kitchen appliances and buy new and it is common for furniture to be replaced. They buy supplies for the whole month of Ramadan which most shops will have on sale or promotion. In some islands the women will gather in one place and prepare all the spices and snacks that they need for the whole month. All of it will be equally distributed amongst all who have helped to make.
The start of Ramadan
The first day of Ramadan will be a public holiday in the Maldives. Ramadan itself is really quiet and during the early morning you will find very few people on the road or out and about. Even working hours are reduced and government and public service offices will only be open for four hours daily. People start to go about their daily buisness and become active during the afternoon prayer time. Mosque’s are very often full and in local islands it is common to find people praying outside the mosque during these days.
The local market and fish market will be one of the busiest places in the afternoon. Locally grown vegetables, fruits and fresh fish will sell at a fast speed. Thoddoo island in North Ari Atoll is an agriculture island and is famous for its production of watermelon during Ramadan. Most homes will serve a juice when breaking fast and this is common to be watermelon to aid rehydration. Women will start cooking in the early afternoon preparing a wide range of food for Iftar (breakfast) and then a later evening meal known as Tharaavees. Men with their children and friends will ride around on their motor bikes for some fresh air and to waste some time! Elderly people may play chess games quite often with a crowd of onlookers waiting for the checkmate moment!
All family members will gather near the food table waiting for sunset prayer to call. These last few minutes can be the longest of the day! In some countries Muslims will have to fast for almost 21 hours but in the Maldives it’s never more than 13 hours. The end of fasting begins with 3 dates and a glass of water, which is considered how it was done by the prophet. After a small meal people head off to mosque. After the prayers people meet with their friends for coffee and will often bring them home to eat the leftover food from the breakfast.
The occasion of Eid al-Fitr marks the finish of Ramadan and the start of the following lunar month, Shawwal. This first day of the next month is proclaimed after another crescent new moon has been located or the fruition of 30 days of fasting.
Whether you travel with Secret Paradise during Ramadan or at another time of the year, you can be sure to learn more about Maldives culture and traditions and have a holiday that is filled with unique local experiences.