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By: Fatima Bheekoo-Shah
Johannesburg is the business hub of South Africa. Islam has been in practise here since the 1600s, brought by people from other countries who eventually settled in the region. Today, South Africa is home to a number of Islamic educational institutes and masajid (mosques).
In this post, we hear from Fatima Bheekoo-Shah, a resident of Johannesburg.
Experience of Ramadan in Johannesburg
Ramadan here is always a much-anticipated time and Muslims prepare months in advance for its welcome. Although Muslims only make up about 2% of the South African population, the environment and the amenities made available for them make it hard to guess that they are, after all, such a small minority.
While it is a month of fasting, it is ironic that we have many Muslim women who start preparing savouries months in advance. They do this either for their own use or for sale. While much could be said about the merits of this savoury-frenzy, it certainly helps in the build-up to this auspicious month. Qur’an competitions and recitals are also held in Rajab and Sha’ban (months prior to Ramadan) to prepare huffād [plural of hāfid, are Muslims who have completely memorised the Qur’an] for taraweeh.
During Ramadan there is definitely a community spirit in the air. In Cape Town little plates of edibles and sweets are sent to one’s Muslim neighbours. In Johannesburg, it is customary for women to prepare large amounts of soup and savouries, sending them to their local masajid to be distributed among devotees that gather there. Closer to Eid, various charitable organizations call on the community to help package and distribute food and clothes-parcels as part of their charitable campaigns for the less fortunate.
Boosting productivity during Ramadan
Because we are not a ‘Muslim country’ there are no such things as reduced working hours. It is pretty much a normal day with Muslims fasting. This year though, the month of fasting falls during our annual winter holidays. So most schools will remain closed during this period, making things easier for our children. Also, most employees take permission to leave work early.
Spiritually, the masajid run various programs for the community to attend. Most masajid in South Africa, with the exception of a few, perform the full 20 raka’ats of taraweeh. The objective is to complete a full recitation of the Qur’an in the month of Ramadan. It is also usually completed during the last ten nights of the month. Some even strive to complete two such full recitations.
It has become somewhat of a tradition for Mufti Menk to spend Ramadan in South Africa, having a tafsir (exegesis) lecture after taraweeh every evening. Even with taraweeh ending late and Muslims having had a normal workday, the masjid can be seen overflowing with devotees eagerly soaking up wisdom from the Mufti. It is also a very social time for Muslims and having iftar dinners is high on the agenda. Many of these do end before taraweeh prayers, though.
Through Jumu’ah Khutbas (sermons) imams encourage the community to attend prayers at the masjid a few months before Ramadan begins. Charitable organizations also run programs on weekends, where people in poorer communities are treated for iftar.
Because we are not a ‘Muslim country’ we do not face challenges such as Ramadan TV series. Living in a non-Muslim environment makes us yearn to hang on even more to the traditions, culture and practices of Ramadan.
The biggest challenge for those who work is trying to balance work, benefiting from the immense reward of reciting the Qur’an and offering optional prayers. This Jumu’ah, the khateeb (the one delivering a sermon) reminded the people that fasting will actually fall during the World Cup and this should not distract nor prevent us from attending prayers at the masjid.
Overcoming obstacles and making the most out of Ramadan
I have learned to overcome this by planning, planning and more planning.
I wake up an hour before suhoor and recite as much Qur’an as I can. After suhoor I don’t retire to bed; I prepare my meals instead so that there is no rush to do it for iftar in the evening.
At work while performing my salah I use some of my break to read more Qur’an. This helps me complete at least one khatma in the holy month. Once I get home I take a power nap before iftar so that I have ample energy for taraweeh.
Over the last few years, my family and I have cut out oily and all unhealthy food so we do not become lazy and sluggish. This went a long way in helping us enjoy a productive Ramadan and keeping our energy levels constant.
Most group iftar parties are held just before taraweeh so that family and friends can attend the taraweeh in congregation. After taraweeh I go to bed. We also switch off the TV during this month so that our minds are not occupied by it and we don’t waste time during this precious month. Even children get used to this and find healthy alternatives to keep themselves occupied.
Some of the Islamic radio stations broadcast lectures and Qur’an recitation to inspire Muslims throughout Ramadan.
Most importantly, we make a firm intention from the beginning of the month that we will try our best during the coming month. We have goals written down and try to complete them as quickly as we can and motivate ourselves to do more.
The key thing is to be consciously aware that Ramadan is not a month for feasting nor should it be taken easy. Rather, it’s a month to be more productive despite the challenges we face. Renewing our intentions periodically throughout the month and carefully structuring our day will lead to greater productivity on a daily basis, In sha Allah.
I remind myself that the Battle of Badr took place in Ramadan. That in itself is a big motivating factor.
That was a quick and brief look into life and productivity during Ramadan in Johannesburg. What productivity challenges do you face in your locality? What unique ways do you adopt to overcome these challenges? Please share your life experiences in the comments below.