A Ramadan Experience in Bayreuth
A guest contribution by Dina Sodjadan with translations by Yao Sodjadan
I was born in Germany and both my parents are German and Christian. That is why Ramadan was never a part of my own life. However, this changed at least a little bit when I moved to Bayreuth. At the “Volxküche – Food for All” we would prepare the food a bit later in the month of Ramadan so that all of us could have a meal together. That time – when community, sharing food and laughing together in a crowded room was still possible – has now become a distant memory. The Covid-19 pandemic is making life harder for all of us, each in our own way. Due to contact restrictions, the majority of Germans have realised that celebrating religious holidays communally is no longer possible in the way it was known. During this year’s Ramadan, too, Muslims had to restrict themselves and re-think the Ramadan celebration. Two Junior Fellows give their insight into the month of fasting, which ends in Germany today after 30 days.
Dikko Muhammad has already spent three fasting months in Germany. For the northern Nigerian, the experience in Germany is completely different from what he knows from his home country. Even though he feels a kind of alienation, he learns to situate himself with the resources that are available here.
Unlike in Nigeria, where there are many cultural activities around Ramadan, here it is mostly the Muslim community that provides a support structure. In 2019, for example, different members of his mosque organised meals on weekends and people ate together after praying.
Of course, this year such activities are impossible. Dikko misses his home, but he tries to stay connected through his parents who contribute to the community in his name.
Tashe – A Hausa Ramadan tradition
One of the happenings in the Hausa Land of Norther Nigeria is called Tashe, where children go from house to house to perform musical acts, using drums. There is also a comical part of it, as they mock bachelors who are in their 30s and 40s, telling them ‘to wake up, as it is already morning’. This mockery amuses a lot of people and in return – for a good show – they receive gifts, such as food and money. This tradition strengthens the friendship ties among the children, but also evidentially shows the bond between all members of the community, as everyone relishes from the entertainment.
“Le Ramadan est synonyme de partage. Il est également synonyme de développement des qualités humaines telles que la patience, la douceur, la compassion, l’humilité, l’amour du prochain en gros”
(English: Ramadan is about sharing. It is also about developing human qualities such as patience, gentleness, compassion, humility, and love of neighbor in general”.) – Adama Drabo.
Adama Drabo also finds himself challenged to abstain from fellowship during Ramadan. It is his fourth celebration in Bavaria and the BIGSAS Junior Fellow is a dedicated Muslim. While Adama enjoys the fasting month, the praying and reading of the Holy Quran, he observed that the youth in Germany does not practice as much spirituality as the youth in Côté d’Ivoire, his home country. Before the pandemic, the Iftār (the ‘breakfast’, evening meal during Ramadan) was done in a warm and fraternal atmosphere, followed by a group prayer. However, now it is only possible to cook and eat together in twos occasionally. Praying together takes place via Zoom. Adama says: “La chaleur humaine qui accompagnait le mois de Ramadan a disparu” (English: “The human warmth that accompanied the month of Ramadan has disappeared”). Being together in larger groups is unfortunately part of this and last year’s fasting. But Adama also points out: Et puis ne dit-on pas que “c’est ensemble qu’on est fort?” (English: “And don’t we say that it is together that we are strong?”).
Celebrating Ramadan in a foreign country during doctoral studies and a pandemic
Even though both Dikko and Adama have to work on their doctoral studies, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar is celebrated to its full extend, while still going on with one’s academic life. Dikko found a way to combine both; while he is praying and reading the Quran at night, he sleeps from 4 am in the morning to 12 pm mid-day. He then works on his PhD from 2 pm in the afternoon to 7 pm in the evening where he starts to prepare the food for Iftār. This schedule worked two years in a row and as Dikko says with this determination, “one could almost endure everything”.
I know that from an outside perspective in Germany Ramadan appears to be a time, where people ‘must feel weak’. “They don’t eat during the whole day! How can they go without water for so many hours!!!” – being confronted with such kind of conclusions can be quite annoying for those who celebrate Ramadan. Most outsiders don’t understand that the time of fasting is felt as a power that lifts one up, that gives strength and perseverance. And taking a look at other religions, fasting is an essential part of them as well, even though the practice of it has taken a back seat.
Dikko summarises: “This kind of experience brings the people together and creates solidarity among people. We share the pain and the joy together. That is how unity is created”. Because, Dikko learnt from his own neighborhood, that fasting is also about: “everyone sharing the hunger of the poor and at the end of the day, everyone enjoys the privilege of the rich”. Adama adds that the Muslim community in Bayreuth, at the university and at BIGSAS is a very diverse one, where brothers and sisters from other cultures add a richness to the celebration or Ramadan. One of Adamas current projects is to connect BIGSAS JFs and alumni of Muslim belief and share their experiences on solidarity in their own community and beyond.
While I sit in my flat writing on this article, someone knocks at the door. It is 8:30 in the evening and a delicious smell hits my nose. When I open the door, I see my neighbors from Syria who hold a plate full of rice and vegetables in their hand. “For you”, they say, “it is Ramadan, enjoy”. I smile and say thanks, when Mohammed says: “Ah wait, I forgot the meat…., now you can eat!!”.
The Quran says that the hand that gives, is the hand that receives. While sharing and solidarity is seen as important features in most religions, Ramadan makes it even more visible. And caring for others, will eventually lead to your own success and happiness.
Happy Eid al-Fitr!
Dikko Muhammad is a BIGSAS Junior Fellow in African Literature, with his PhD project titled: Female Voices in Northern Nigeria: An Exploration of Nature, Activism and Identity Politics in the Poetry of Nana Aishatu Ahmad, Angela Miri, and Maria Ajima. He is currently Junior Fellow representative.
Adama Drabo is a BIGSAS Junior Fellow in African Linguistics, with his PhD project titled: Marqueurs discursifs et pragmatèmes dans le français en Côte d’Ivoire : Une analyse empirique de dƐ, kƐ, tchô et toi aussi. He submitted his thesis a few weeks back and currently prepares his defense for later this year.