Maldives celebrates Ramazan with food, festivities, fasting, prayer

The Maldives has seen a flurry of activities in the lead up to the holy month of Ramadan, which began today (July 9) in the tropical island nation, with festivities and devout worship to continue throughout the month.

Ramadan marks month in which the Quran was revealed to mankind, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is a time of fasting, is one of the five pillars of Islam and represents a form of worship to Allah.

During Ramadan, or Ramazan as the holy month is referred to in the Maldives, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.

Maldivians throughout the 100 percent Sunni Muslim nation will abstain from eating, drinking and sexual activity from dawn until sunset throughout ‘roadha mas’ (fasting month).

The rituals during this holy month are intended remind those who follow Islam of their duty as a Muslim, by keeping them away from worldly temptations to tame the mind and instill determination.

Extensive cleaning, home repairs, as well as shopping for foodstuffs and other household supplies are common practice in preparation for Ramazan throughout the Maldives, as is hosting banquet celebrations, traditionally referred to as ‘maahefun’ parties, to welcome the coming of Ramazan and symbolically celebrate eating the last meal before ‘roadha mas’.

Family, friends, and neighbors come together to enjoy traditional food and music, while many celebrations have ‘boduberu’ performances, a combination of traditional singing, dancing and rhythmic drumming considered one of the most high-profile examples of Maldivian culture.

Maahefun block parties have been ongoing throughout Male’ neighborhoods, particularly over the last week, in addition to events hosted by political parties, businesses, schools and government offices.

Since the exact date Ramazan begins is derived each year from phases of the moon, moving backwards an average of 10 days every year, last night (July 8 ) the Islamic Affairs Ministry held a small conference to confirm the sighting of the new moon.

During a ceremony following the meeting, the Islamic Affairs Ministry declared that today (July 9) would mark the beginning of Ramazan in the Maldives, as well as some other Muslim countries where the new moon had been sighted.

Now that Ramazan has officially begun the flurry of parties and preparations have given way to calm and quiet during the day, particularly in Male’ where there is a noticeable lack of people on the roads in the typically overcrowded capital.

Working hours have been reduced to between 9:00am to 1:30pm, as per previous years, while cafes and restaurants have been permitted to remain open until 3:00am. In previous years, many eateries and other businesses were open 24 hours, however in October 2012, the Ministry of Economic Development revoked the 24 hour licensing permits issued to businesses across the country, citing concerns over national security.

The pace of daily life has slowed to accommodate the difficulties that arise from not eating or drinking, which can be quite challenging given the tropical equatorial climate in the Maldives.

Mosques are brimming with worshipers – in some cases they are overflowing with people who can be seen praying in the street – during the five regular prayer times which fall around 5am (fajr), 12pm (dhuhr), 3:30pm (asr), 6pm (maghrib), and 7pm (isha).

There is also an special tarawih (night prayer) that takes place during Ramazan; while the exact prayer time varies it always follows isha prayers.

Another optional prayer time in the middle of the night, around 2am, is referred to as ‘dhamu namaadhu’ (midnight prayer) in the Maldives. While it takes place throughout the year, there are more attendees during this holy month.

One of the most significant aspects of Ramazan is Laylat al-Qadr, the anniversary of the night the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Mohamed, which falls on one of the last nights of roadha mas although the exact date is unknown. It is believed that an individual who prays with devout sincerity on this day will have all their past sins forgiven.

The spiritual oneness of island communities in the Maldives is palpable during Ramazan, especially when most of the community comes together to pray in the quiet, peaceful hours of the night, while the Imam’s Quran recitation can be heard echoing on the breeze.

While the religious significance and ritual practice of Ramazan makes this an extremely important month for Maldivians – and Muslims worldwide – it is also very festive.

Maldivians break fast as soon as the call to magrib prayers is heard in the evening, eating delicious traditional foods during ‘roadha villun’ (fast breaking). Dates and fresh juice – watermelon and young coconut are particularly popular – are followed by sweet and savory ‘hedhika’ (short eats).

Although the hedhika varies by household, a surprising variety of dishes can be derived from the basic ingredients of tuna, shredded coconut, chilies, onions, and flour. ‘Haaru’ (supper) is also taken sometime in the middle of the night, with many traditional dishes served during Ramazan.

This year a Male’ City Ramadan Fresh Market consisting of 24 stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables is being held in the capital’s Henviru ward, near the Artificial Beach. The market will be open daily from 8am until 1am until the end of the Eid holidays in mid-August.

Unfortunately, the increased demand during Ramazan also drives up food prices throughout the country each year.

The sundown to sunrise festivities are not limited to food. There is also an increase in evening sports events, such as football tournaments, as well as entertainment programs on TV, like the popular boduberu challenge that has been broadcast annually in recent years.

Given the importance of the holiday, President Mohamed Waheed issued a Ramazan greeting to the nation, noting that the holy month was an occasion to strengthen communal relations and an opportunity to restore peace and order in the society.

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