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Ramadan in Ewu Elepe, a village on the outskirts of Ikorodu and Lagos in Nigeria, is an experience I never had prior to being married. It was in this village that one can learn, in practice, what it is to be and have a good neighbour, especially in Ramadan.
Ramadan is Special in Ewu-Elepe
In the second week of Sha’aban, two weeks to Ramadan to be precise, our children start bringing home flyers or hand bills announcing the annual pre-Ramadan lectures. They are usually given these by the proprietors of the madrasas (schools) they attend. These flyers signal that we are one day closer to the blessed month of abundant mercy; the month of Ramadan.
These two-hour long lectures are hosted by the community on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am to 2 pm for the two weeks leading up to Ramadan.
Everyone is encouraged to do or bring in whatever they can to ensure the success of the program. More often than not, the women bake and donate snacks, cartons of biscuits, bottled water and home-made fruit juice. Because it is a community where the majority of the women are housewives and the men are skilled labourers, teachers or traders, very rarely would you find expensive or exotic items on the menu at these programs. Despite that, they do go out of their way in preparing a variety of their best local cuisine.
The Spiritual Angle
The pre-Ramadan lectures serve as reminders to the community, with topics such as the essence of Ramadan, making the best of Ramadan, the importance of the Qur’an, the Prophet’s sunnah in Ramadan, being the best spouse to your partner in Ramadan and learning the most you can in Ramadan in a bid to please Allah , etc.
Information about these programs are sometimes spread by word of mouth, but most of the time they’re advertised using flyers which the children are given to take home. People come from far and near to attend these lectures with their families.
When Ramadan eventually arrives, it is received with open arms and humility, fertile ground having been nourished and made ready with these pre-Ramadan lectures and everyone being grateful to Allah for blessing them with another Ramadan.
For those of us who work, except with the federal, state or local governments, there are no reduced working hours; you go to work and have to beat heavy Lagos traffic to get home and cook before iftar.
Reading the entire Qur’an in Ramadan and memorising as much as one can is given topmost priority. To assist with this, the madrasa remains open throughout Ramadan, taking breaks only after the holy month is over. Classes for adults are held in the mornings while children attend in the evening.
The Physical Angle
A very special part of Ramadan for us here is iftar in the masjid (mosque). We still have to cook our own meals at home but every family takes turn in providing iftar which is brought to the masjid and all of us, rich and poor alike, eat together. Those preparing iftar on any particular night have the opportunity to feed the needy by bringing more than the required quantity.
This particular activity is one which people eagerly scramble for, so much so that timetables are created for it and the Imam informed beforehand. This helps avoid wastage of food from situations where more than one volunteering family end up providing iftar for the evening.
In the morning, the children who attend the madrasa take turns in keeping the masjid and its amenities clean. This is done to make them feel involved and not think that Ramadan is for grown-ups alone.
The Social Angle
Another very special activity in Ramadan is the mid-afternoon halaqat (meetings with Q & A sessions).
Before and after the month of Ramadan, these halaqahs are scheduled from after Asr to just before Maghrib. Ramadan changes it all and they are very much looked forward to. The Q&A sessions are people’s favourite; numerous questions are asked and we all learn from the expert answers given. The Ramadan halaqah schedule starts after Dhuhr runs up to Asr.
This enables families to better plan their cooking. Sometimes women take their time to prepare delicacies different from the usual staple local dishes. When anything different is prepared using a new recipe, there is a tradition of sharing some with the neighbours of the person who cooked it, before it is distributed among other Muslims who live close to the house.
By Allah’s grace, keeping up with all of these activities is fairly easy for us. Even after Ramadan the halaqahs continue and the madrasa remains open. Classes about Fiqh, Seerah, the Qur’an and more continue, except for end-of-semester breaks. The classes also continue after Maghrib daily and on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings with Hadith and Qur’an memorisation.
Ramadan is also a period when visiting the sick and the elderly in our community is recognised as more rewarding than at other times. The most important thing here is doing everything solely seeking the mercy of Allah .
Visitations continue even after Ramadan. When someone has a baby or when there’s a Nikkah (betrothal), the masjid committee hires a bus to take everyone there. Rarely does anyone opt out to go separately; it’s a lot more fun when we are together. Going together to these events helps some of us who work to catch up with classes we may have missed at the madrasa during the course of the week. We ask questions, talk within the boundaries allowed by Islam (i.e. staying away from gossip and backbiting) and just have fun. We contribute varying amounts of money to get some gift for the person we are visiting.
Alhamdulillah, our Ramadan is almost always hitch-free, although the Lagos lifestyle can be quite a stumbling block for people who have lived in the big city all their lives and have relocated to this peaceful village. Loud music is everywhere in Lagos, so a person who has just relocated might find it difficult to not sing along. Keeping a low gaze too can be extremely difficult! It is not uncommon to find an ordinary Lagosian wearing a piece of clothing meant for their bedrooms outside their home and even on the streets in broad daylight!
Going out of our homes as Muslims can be challenging too especially in a village where people teach their kids to call you a masquerade when they see a sister in niqab or khimar approaching. There have been instances of kids screaming “masquerade” or “Ojuju” in local dialect and running between their mothers’ laps out of fear.
From each of these obstacles and others like it, we simply seek Allah’s help and beseech Him to give us the patience and tolerance to be at our best behaviour as Muslims within and outside our homes.
Almost all of us now have a phone with a high-capacity memory card fully loaded with Qur’an and lectures from leaders, scholars and speakers such as Ustadh Nouman Ali-Khan, Sheikh Sulaiman Moola, Sheikh Mufti Ismail Menk and others. We also download audio versions of books used in the madrasa such as Usool-ut-Thalatha and so many more. Sisters wear earpieces under their hijabs while the men sometimes wear headphones or use earpieces. This way we shut out whatever we do not want to hear, be it music or gossip.
In a situation where you have to raise your head to do what you have to do, you just avert your gaze from that which you do not want to see and do not take a second glance, while at the same time filling your heart with dhikr and dua.
Once, a young boy called a friend of mine who wears the niqab a masquerade. She turned right back, walked up to the screaming boy and, difficult as it was, said quite nicely, “No, I am Umm Abdullah, not Ojuju.” Then she either gave him some sweets or made the boy laugh and walked away, having cleared her conscience by soothing the boy. This way, she does not go home upset and hurt and the boy definitely would not see another sister same way nor tease the same way again.
With the close of the blessed month of Ramadan, the taraweeh prayers in Ramadan become our Qiyaam ul-Layl once again, and not once do we stop seeking Allah’s His Protection and His Rahma.
I wish you a blessed and most productive Ramadan this year!
There is a lot more I could say about Ramadan in Ewu-Elepe, but I would love to hear more from you about Ramadan in your cities, suburbs and villages. So please share your experiences and Ramadan activities in comments below for our pleasure and enlightenment of the rest of us.
About the Author:
Balqees Mojisola Adebola via OnIslam.net
Born and raised in Lagos, Balqees a trained journalist and an experienced corporate communications specialist. As an entrepreneur’s coach who’s always on her toes at home and outside, she fits freelance writing and blogging into her ever growing busy schedule. She is a mother of two adorable children and currently resides in Lagos.