The month of Ramadan in the capital of Ghana's Northern Region capital is one of the most beautiful times in the community.
Although Muslims constitute about 18 percent of the population in Ghana, in a Muslim majority area like Ghana's Northern Region—where Muslims are about 60 percent of the population—the religious climate is refreshingly different.
According to data from the 2010 Population and Housing Census recorded by the Ghana Statistical Service, this is the region with the largest number of Muslims in Ghana. The month of Ramadan for many people of Tamale, the regional capital, is one of the most beautiful months of the year because the it dramatically changes many things in the city.
Below, I break down how the holy month is observed in Tamale. And before I proceed, this is not the meat Eid and no, Muslims don't drink even water while fasting.
During Ramadan, most entertainment activities like music concerts, movie premieres and even marriage ceremonies are halted to observe the holiness associated with the month. Ramadan is enjoyed by many in the region because it aligns with the collectivist values that many in this society hold dear.
Individuals have saɣla (suhoor) and larigibu (iftaar) with family, meaning that they get to sit around and catch up with family at formal Ramadan meal times at dawn and dusk. Whether individuals choose to break their fast with family, friends or the ummah at the mosque, they observe it in some kind of community which is the essence of the Ramadan for many.
Before the month begins, people buy packets or bowls of sugar and tea for families to observe the fast. Those who are able, buy them for people they believe may be unable to afford them. Many have come to associate the St. Louis sugar packet with the holy month as it magically appears on the market during Ramadan and disappears right after.
For many Muslims, the Ramadan is a special month on the Islamic calendar because it causes them to practice conscientious empathy, peacefulness and conviviality. Not only is it important spiritually for many Muslims, it supports the psychological and emotional wellbeing of the individual. Some might even perceive participating in fasting during the Ramadan as a practice of radical selfcare as it entreats Muslims to remove themselves from harmful or potentially toxic situations especially during this month.
A few days to the end of the nolori (Ramadan), children get ready for what is for them, the most exciting part of the month where they go to Tiila. "Tiila" literally means "giving." Tiila is a common practice by children to mark the end of the holy month. Children dress up in various types of clothing and costumes and go from compound to compound performing for household audiences for small change among other things. They perform for audiences by singing, dancing to tiila songs, acting short plays, or reciting Qur'anic verses. Audiences give based on how impressed they are with the performance of the young artists. They are paid with money, corn and other grains or even cooked food. The children sing:
Naanzuu biɛla yi biɛni nyin niŋ tima na
Kpalgu biɛla yi biɛni nyin niŋ tima na
Moŋ la yi moŋ la yi moŋ la Naawuni
In the Tiilaa song, the young performers entreat audiences to give alms perhaps in preparation for the Eid al-Fitr celebrations which is all about giving. They tell audiences that their refusal to give to economically marginalized people is tantamount to refusing to give to Naawuni (Allah) as the act of giving alms and practicing conscientious empathy is the essence of Islam and Muslim-ness.
The Eid Prayer
On the eve of the Eid-al Fitr, as soon as the moon is sighted, gunshots are fired at the palace of the chief to notify everyone that the Eid al-Fitr will take place the next day. The Eid prayer is one of the most important parts of the holy month and many look forward to the prayer as it not only marks a key point of the holy month but is also a place where friends and family gather after prayers to wish each other well. The Zakat al-Fitr (almsgiving before the Eid prayer) is a chance for Muslims to give to economically marginalized people in the immediate community. Giving can take the form of grains and sometimes money; this is to enable poor people take part in the festive celebrations.
After the Eid prayer, community members usually drop by each others' homes to wish each other well in the new year. Muslim families cook delicious dishes like jollof, waakye, rice and stew, shinkaafa kpila (rice balls) and more to celebrate the end of the Ramadan. Children and young people are usually tasked with delivering the special Eid meal to friends, family and neighbors.
Late afternoon, children dress up in their fancy Eid clothes to visit family and friends of their family to wish them well. They are usually fed special Eid meals during these visits and sent off with some money. Kids do this till evening and at the end of the day, the Barka da Sallah group put together all the money they got and share it among themselves. There is a reason why children love this Muslim celebration so much!
I was able to speak with some Muslims who prayed at the Kaladan Stadium with the Manhaliya Islamic Institute on June 16, where they shared what the month of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr means to them:
Alhassan Imoro (Former Assembly Member for UDS Tamale Campus)
The Ramadan went very fantastic and very nicely. We started it on the 1st and we've ended it on the 30th. And throughout the month we've been committed to the principles of Islam. We did it nicely and we did it nicely. Islam is about peace; it's about commitment and in sha Allah, we are going to continue it.
Alhamdulillah. We thank God. Ramadan is not something you get used to. When you fast every year, the way you feel is the same feeling. But the only thing is that we are grateful that we've been able to fast throughout the month successfully. And we are alive because some didn't make it to this day. Alhamdulillah.
After prayers we'll get back to the house, prepare meals and then share with friends. The month of Ramadan means a lot. As a Muslim, we have 5 pillars of Islam and fasting is one of them. Fasting is one of the important pillars of Islam where we fast for either 29 days or 30 days. And then after the 30 or 29 days we celebrate the Eid. We pray to Allah for giving us the opportunity to see all the 30 days.
The Eid al-Fitr is more than just an Islamic festival. It is community; it is humanity; it is a way of life; it is culture.