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) 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.
Suhur 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 Suhur
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 suhur. My favorite suhur items for the first week of Ramadhan is cooked maize meal (polenta) or Mieliepap porridge because I don’t feel hungry as quickly by the afternoon. Other suhur 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 Suhur
- Overnight Dairy Free Muesli and Oats
- Greek yogurt with homemade granola
- Shakshuka poached eggs in spicy tomato sauce
- Almond coconut bread
- Almond and coconut breakfast pancakes
- Low Carb Healthy Berry smoothie
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
- Cape Malay pancakes (crepes) with sweet coconut flavored with cinnamon and cardamom;
- South African Flapjacks
- Sweetcorn and polenta fritters;
- Daltjies spinach and corn fritters (made with chickpea flour, spinach and spices etc);
- Cardamom bollas with saffron syrup
- Falooda milkshake
- Creamy Cape Malay boeber a hot milky beverage thickened with vermicelli and sago.
- Red Lentil Soup
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.
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
- Chicken and Mushroom Pie
- Pepper Steak Pie
- Decadent Chocolate cake with ganache frosting
- Rose Cupcakes with white chocolate ganache
- Cape Malay Milk tart
- Cape Malay Potato Pudding
- Chocolate chunk pecan cookies
- Cranberry, Macadamia and white chocolate cookies
- Crunchies oat and coconut cookies
Do you have any Ramadhan traditions? Please share in the comments below.
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