Cape Malay Ramadhan traditions

Ramadhan traditions - Men performing congregational prayer

My memories of Cape Malay Ramadhan traditions in Cape Town are of joyous family time, where families reconnect, worship and eat together. A time when the rat race was left behind and every family member ensured that they were at home before sunset.

If you have never heard of Ramadhan then this article on What is Ramadhan and why do Muslims fast? may be useful. If you struggle to cope with the demands of work and family life during Ramadhan then these Tips for a successful Ramadhan may be useful.

The month of Ramadhan is about fasting (sawm or pwasa as we used to call it) and the willing abstinence from food, drink, bad words and deeds and carnal pleasures between dawn and sunset. However, many of our memories of our Ramadhan traditions and the times we spent together are at the dining table during suhur and iftar.

Suhoor was the quiet time before dawn when we could mentally and physically prepare ourselves for the day ahead. Iftar was the noisy time after sunset when everyone eats and families caught up with each other about how their day went.

My late father always went to one of the three neighbourhood mosques at the time for breaking the fast. His Ramadhan tradition was to break his fast at the mosque every evening with other fasting worshippers from the neighbourhood. Our duty was to make sure had a platter full of tasty treats for the children who were fasting and coming to mosque for iftar. They would then perform the early evening maghrib prayer in congregation.

After my father passed away our Ramadhan traditions and routine changed somewhat and our household was much more subdued. My mother’s sisters Mummy Rachel, Aunty Josie and her husband Uncle Mylie made sure that we had company every night during that first Ramadhan, and every year until both the sisters passed. Uncle Mylie drove through rain and sunshine so that my aunts could be with us at a time when we felt my father’s loss more than any other.

Ramadhan traditions for Suhoor

Growing up it felt like torture in the early hours of the morning when my mother came to wake us, during the best part of sleep, to sit at the table and eat and drink in anticipation of the day of fasting. Thereafter we would stumble to the bathroom to make ablutions and await the call for prayer.

When we were children my mum often made toasted sandwiches with chicken mayonnaise or cheese filling for us. If there were any leftovers from the previous night’s dinner she used that, or fried sausages and scrambled eggs with caramelized onions that my dad loved.

During the latter weeks of Ramadhan when everyone started to feel the effects of dehydration and energy loss, we would occasionally oversleep and rise with just enough time to take a sip of water. Those were the days when we would feel the anguish of physical thirst and hunger the most.

As an adult I found that I fast with a clearer mind and more alertness if I consume a light suhoor. My favorite suhoor items for the first week of Ramadhan is Creamy Breakfast Mieliepap recipe (Maize meal porridge) because I don’t feel hungry as quickly by the afternoon. Other suhoor options include low carb fruit smoothies or egg dishes with bread.

From the second or third week I find eating food early in the morning too much to bear and suffice with a few dates and many glasses of water. I force myself to eat something and drink water because Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) advised that there is blessing in doing so.

Ramadhan Foods to eat at Suhoor (click on the link in the sidebar for more recipes)

Ramadhan traditions for Iftar

If the Ramadhan Lantern, the Fanous Ramadhan, is the symbol of Ramadhan in the Middle East, then the symbol of Ramadhan in Cape Town should be a child carrying a covered side plate with iftar snacks. This custom ensured that everyone had something to break their fast with during Ramadhan and we shared with our neighbours whether they had anything to reciprocate or not.

From the age of about five I was visiting our immediate neighbours before iftar with small plates of sweet or savory snacks freshly made by my late mother. This has always been my favorite Ramadhan tradition and I would love to know where else in the world it is done. It is the one thing I miss more than any during Ramadhan in Dubai because it is such an important part of the Ramadhan tradition of sharing and charity in the Cape Malay community.

Even now you can find children in neighborhoods with sizable muslim populations going from neighbor to neighbour, carrying their precious iftar cargo every night. It exemplifies the spirit of sharing, caring and charity during Ramadhan, that we share what we have with our neighbours.

Every night the kids gather round the dining table for iftar waiting to hear the call to Magrib prayer ring out from the mosques nearby, so that they can break their fast with dates, a samosa or a daltjie. Samoosas and daltjies are a Ramadhan tradition and a staple on every iftar table. Every family has their own recipe and nearly every member of the household will eat one or more with soup or boeber. I have recently heard the samosa referred to as ‘The Most Dangerous triangle in the Cape Flats’ and ‘The Only Love Triangles you need’.

There were some items that my Aunty Gadija always made during Ramadhan like Gulab Jambo (the South African version of Gulab Jamun), Basboosa that she learnt from her mother in law and kriminatjies (a fried pastry puff with spicy minced meat filling). I’ve never acquired the taste for any other versions of these treats and every Ramadhan crave her Gulab Jambo or Basboosa.

When I was a child I loved to see all the small plates with the snacks that our neighbours sent over because Aunty Fadeela and Aunty Zaida were newly married and made something different every night. My nephews are exactly the same during iftar at their maternal grandmother’s house. During last Ramadhan the youngest one Sulaiman asked me on my first night back home whether he could come stay over at our house during Ramadhan. Then he remembered he would be missing out on the family iftar every night, and decided he would rather come after Eid.

Ramadhan Foods to eat at Iftar (click on the link in the sidebar for more recipes)

Many families proceed to the mosque for Taraweeh prayers, the optional night prayers during Ramadhan. It is beneficial to eat less at iftar so that you do not feel tired, sluggish or overburdened with food when performing the prayers. Very often they will have a light dinner after returning home from the night prayers.

It is recommended to perform Tahajjud prayers during the last third of the night, especially during Ramadhan. This is sometimes difficult for working adults, school goers and students who will already be having reduced sleeping hours. At least we can do it on the weekends to obtain the reward during Ramadhan.

Boeber night

Another Ramadhan tradition of the Cape Malays is Boeber night (Boeber aand). We commemorate the 15th night of Ramadhan or the half way mark, by having boeber and sending to our neighbours for iftar. In our home every night was Boeber aand because my mother always made it from the start of Ramadhan along with the soup that my dad loved.

This Boeber Night video is a funny yet accurate account of how much we love boeber.

The Night of Power

During the last ten days and nights of Ramadhan we become less occupied with the restrictions placed upon us by fasting and even more focussed on worship. By this time the headaches have stopped, fasting breath has kicked in and our appetites have decreased significantly.

Allah tells us in Surah Al-Qadr 97:3, that ‘The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months’. Lailatul Qadr or the Night of Power is an odd numbered night during the last ten nights of Ramadhan, for which Allah caused knowledge of the exact night to be forgotten.

We strive even harder in worship during the last ten nights of Ramadhan reciting Quran, doing good deeds, making dua and repenting for our sins in hope and faith that they will be forgiven. The supplication taught by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) to be made on the night of Lailatul Qadr is:

“Allahumma innaka ‘afuwwun tuhibb al-‘afwa fa’fu ‘anni

(O Allah, You are All-Forgiving and You love forgiveness so forgive me).”

When Eid beckons

While trying to improve our worship we still have to go about our daily lives, including preparing for the festival of Eid Al Fitr. The Eid is celebrated on the first day of the month of Shawaal, and is declared after sighting the new moon at sunset after the last day of fasting in Ramadhan.

In preparation for Eid, Cape Malay households get a thorough spring cleaning during the last week of Ramadhan. New curtains and carpets may be installed and the cooks and bakers are busy for days preparing the treats that will be served to guests on the days of Eid. With the waning appetites for food comes simpler and less elaborate iftar meals.

For children of fasting age, the end of Ramadhan is a time for celebration if they have fasted during the month. The achievement and accomplishment of having completed one day or thirty is accompanied by special gifts from family and friends.

If you are fasting during this auspicious month please accept my sincere wishes for a Ramadhan Mubarak (Blessed Ramadhan) and Ramadan Kareem (Generous Ramadhan).

Eid foods and treats

Do you have any Ramadhan traditions? Please share in the comments below.

Quran with prayer beads

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  • Reply
    Gervin Khan
    May 13, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    First of all, I’m not a Muslim however I’m very amaze of their dedication to their faith which we must all respect. This kind of tradition makes them what they are and how they honor their faith.

  • Reply
    Campuestohan Resort Bacolod
    May 13, 2019 at 6:51 am

    This article thought me a lot about Ramadan, thank you for sharing it to the world. I’ll be trying out your Pepper steak pie…

  • Reply
    Kalyan Panja
    May 11, 2019 at 5:20 pm

    Nice knowing about the Ramadhan traditions of Cape Malay and about the food during this time. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Mudpie Fridays
    May 11, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    Ramadhan is part of every Muslim brothers and sisters culture. So important that us, non Muslims are aware and respect with their traditions. Thank you for sharing this information.

  • Reply
    May 11, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    Ramadan choices of food made realize, it can be easier to be a vegan. These are so delicious, that I won’t be craving for at all.

  • Reply
    May 11, 2019 at 7:06 am

    Sounds like fun family times building tradition and great memories!

  • Reply
    Lydia Smith
    May 11, 2019 at 2:53 am

    Thanks for sharing everything about Ramadan. Knowing different culture and customs really broaden my knowledge.

  • Reply
    David Elliott
    May 11, 2019 at 2:00 am

    It must be such an amazing time to be there. I am sure the worship would be so beautiful in its own way. Very lovely!

  • Reply
    Sue-Tanya Mchorgh
    May 11, 2019 at 12:34 am

    I had no idea there was so much to Ramadahn. I would love to experience one day. All the food sounds amazing.

  • Reply
    May 10, 2019 at 8:31 pm

    It’s really wonderful to learn more about the celebrations, prayers, and customs that take place during Ramadan. All the food looks incredible, too!

    • Reply
      May 16, 2019 at 8:33 pm

      Loved reading your childhood stories, Razena. I could relate to most of them.

      Ramadan Mubarak xx

  • Reply
    Jasmine M
    May 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    There are so many traditions when it comes to Ramadhan! It’s very involved and requires true dedication which I admire. I also wasn’t aware of the different types of food that were eaten during Ramadhan. The foods look and sound amazing.

    • Reply
      Mogamat Kamedien
      January 28, 2023 at 3:06 pm

      Razena S, trammakassie for this splendid opinion piece, hope it will eventually be documented and published in book form , inshallaah

  • Reply
    Czjai Reyes-Ocampo
    May 10, 2019 at 4:53 pm

    The Almond Coconut bread looks yummy! I’m checking out the recipe! 🙂

  • Reply
    May 10, 2019 at 4:14 am

    I had no idea there is that much involved in Ramadhan, this is amazing! I would love to experience something like that, just great.

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      May 10, 2019 at 4:33 pm

      The most important part is the worship. That takes the form of prayer and supplication, doing good deeds and giving charity, even if it’s only a plate of snacks for breaking the fast.

      • Reply
        Hameed Kazi
        April 6, 2023 at 3:45 pm

        سُبْحَانَ ٱللَّٰهِ. I loved the article. Beautiful memories especially of people close to you that have passed on. That’s what the article directs us to because all the good things were made and passed down through the generations. Unfortunately the tradition of sharing with the neighbours is being lost. Love to all

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