🇹🇿 Second month in Zanzibar
My experience of Ramadan and Eid in Zanzibar.
I'm into my 2nd month in Zanzibar, and I'm incredibly blessed to have experienced Ramadan and Eid in Zanzibar. The experience was life-changing, and it was hands down my best Ramadan and Eid to date. Something that will live long in my memory, and the privilege of spending it with my wife makes it much better.
So without further or do, I'll begin sharing why Ramadan and Eid in 2022 will stand the test of time in my heart.
🧠 Change in Mentality
It was midday. I was working on my sofa, and my internet was cutting in and out. Days before that, I had the same problem. At this point, I was livid and angry with the lack of progress at work, the continuous stop-start nature of my internet, and its residual effect on everything I was doing.
Whilst my internet was playing up; I thought I might sit here and wait until the internet sorts itself out. Whilst sitting on the sofa, a light bulb moment happens.
Bro, chill out!! There's no need to work yourself out; you're in Zanzibar; go for a walk, and things will work themselves out.
Then it clicked.
Change in country = Change in mindset.
Anyone who hasn't been to Tanzania before will realise quickly that things are done at a much slower pace. This is not just related to activities you may be planning or doing but also how people walk, set plans, and conduct themselves daily.
At the very least, if you come to Tanzania, you'll hear the saying 'pole pole lifestyle.' It essentially means a slow lifestyle. I knew coming into the country that's how everything is, but this was the first time working remotely in the country, and it hit me.
Having come from the UK, I'm accustomed to everything being done at 100mph, and that's not just work-related, but my entire mindset, every single minute of the day is planned and regimented to ensure that my time is being used efficiently since you never seem to have enough time in the day to do the things that you want, i.e. work gym, leisure, socialise, the list is endless.
Infinite wants but finite time.
But having lived in Tanzania for three months, when writing this, if you go against the prevailing mindset, your whole experience will be filled with frustration and disappointment. I think this translates to whatever country you're going to.
I've come to notice whenever people go to a Global South countries, they want to experience local lifestyle, since the capital is usually populated with foreigners and tourists. So they begin to find a village and start to document themselves.
But having experienced both sides, locals will always be there. To fully immerse yourself into a foreign country, try to grasp an understanding of the mindset, and from there, you'll be able to capture the culture.
Environments will always change, but people are usually too stubborn to.
On every corner of every street, you'll find a Masjid in Stown Town; this made the experience of Ramadan incredibly blissful.
Masjid Lecture session
Outside of my apartment, there was a Masjid opposite our balcony. After every Asr prayer, the Imam would have a 1hr 45min lecture about a particular aspect of Islam. What made this lecture different from anything I've experienced is that the Imam would talk through the speakers used for the Athan, meaning anyone within a one/two-mile radius would hear every word of the session.
What made it incredibly fascinating was that the Masjid that the lesson was commencing in would be packed to the brim, to the point that people would sit on the benches surrounding the Masjid.
Those who did go to the Masjid would usually go with a notepad and pen, actively taking notes.
It was a surreal experience since I usually finished work around Asr time and sat on my balcony, taking in whatever I could understand [My Swahili is not 100%].
In addition, having those lectures made Ramadan an inescapable feeling. Having done the majority of Ramadans in the UK, there are points during the month that you tend to forget that this is the month of Ramadan because you're bogged down with other things in life. But in Stown Town, being able to finish work, sit on my balcony, and take in the lesson going on, is a huge source of motivation and reminder to make the most of Ramadan and keep on trying your best.
Usually, in the UK, during Ramadan, I'll go to one Masjid to do Taraweeh and maybe visit two others if I have the time. Well, this year was a significant change in the plan.
Due to the condensed nature of Stown Town, within a five-minute walk you could come across six different Masjids.
So to make my experience in Zanzibar that bit different, I would usually pray Taraweeh at three other Masjids on the same night to experience different reciters, the vibe of a Masjid and to refresh my mind.
You'll notice that, unlike in the UK, where nearly every Masjid would recite to finish the Quran, in some Masjids in Stown Town, they'll recite Juz Amma the whole of Ramadan, whilst others would look to complete the whole Quran.
At first, I was shocked and wasn't sure if that was allowed, but after researching, it's perfectly fine to do that. However, I assumed that Masjids that just read Juz Amma were lazy; Allah knows best, but I later removed myself from that assumption, and I thoroughly enjoyed having the option of experiencing different reciters with different aims in different Masjids.
I think I went to pray Taraweeh at ten to fifteen different Masjids. It was a surreal experience; as I've mentioned in the previous month, other Masjids follow different madhabs. So for those Masjids that follow Ibadah madhab, the witr salah is entirely different to what I'm accustomed to and the majority of other Masjids in Zanzibar, which makes the whole experience of this Ramadan more unique.
There is a high tolerance level with different Madhabus in Zanzibar, which is pleasant to experience.
Whilst at Masjid in Stown Town, you'll notice how kid-friendly it is.
In the UK, most masjids rarely allow children to have fun or be playful in the Masjid whilst Taraweeh is commencing; I have experienced that.
What usually happens if children are playing or talking, they are either told directly to go outside to talk or are questioned as to why they even came to the Masjid in the first place.
The indirect method is that the Masjid would announce that parents shouldn't bring their kids to the Masjid if they can't control them.
Now, this is not to say that children should be causing unimaginable noise levels, but children are aware enough to understand what level of noise is acceptable. The kids will usually be at the very back talking and playing. And when they want to pray, they go pray.
The reason I mentioned this is because when I was nine I was verbally attacked by an adult and told not to come back to the Masjid. Having experienced that at a young age you begin to feel the Masjid is not the place to be. You start avoiding it. For some, it leads to them losing their connection with the Masjid, inevitably having little to no connection when they become adults.
In Stone Town, it is just wonderful to see a healthy relationship between children and adults where the kids understand when not to do certain things, and if they're too loud, they are reminded by the adults to keep the noise to a minimum. The remarkable result was that many of the imams leading the prayer were taught and educated at the very Masjids they lead. The benefits of children having a solid connection to the Masjid are clear.
🤲🏾 Du'a Du'a Du'a
The level of Du'a is on another level in Stown Town.
After every two rakats of Taraweeh, there would be a small Du'a before going into the new set of Taraweeh rakats. The Imam would lead the Du'a via the microphone, and people would recite in unison with the Imam.
الْلَّهُمَّ اِنَّكَ عَفُوٌّ تُحِبُّ الْعَفْوَ فَاعْفُ عَنِّي
Allaahumma innaka 'afuwwun, tuhibbul-'afwa, fa'fu 'anni
"O Allah, You are the Most forgiving, and You love to forgive, so forgive me."
Initially, because I wasn't accustomed to it, I would usually put my head down and not say anything. But after a while, after realising that nothing was wrong, I would either particulate or take in words being recited.
After Taraweeh is finished, there will be a Du'a to finalise the completion of the Taraweeh. The Imam would again lead the Du'a using the microphone; the Du'a this time would be much longer; sometimes, they would invite the children to participate in leading the Du'a. This Du'a would be focused on praying for those in this life, hereafter, those suffering around the world and a lot of other things.
During Jummah Prayer, there would be an even longer Du'a, usually led by the Imam leading the sermon; this was specifically done during Ramadan.
When reading it can feel like all those Du'a seem a bit too much, but when you're in the moment, it penetrates the heart, reinvigorating the importance of Du'a. Usually, I take it for granted when doing a Du'a after prayer, but having experienced the level of importance bestowed upon Du'a in Stown Town it reminded me that Du'a is your chance to speak to Allah directly and ask whatever you wish you want to have in this life and the heart after.
Also, in Tanzania, they end Du'a with the last three Ayahs of Surah As-Suffat, which is incredible when you read the meaning.
سُبْحَـٰنَ رَبِّكَ رَبِّ ٱلْعِزَّةِ عَمَّا يَصِفُونَ ١٨٠
Glorified is your Lord—the Lord of Honor and Power—above what they claim!
وَسَلَـٰمٌ عَلَى ٱلْمُرْسَلِينَ ١٨١
Peace be upon the messengers.
وَٱلْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ ٱلْعَـٰلَمِينَ ١٨٢
And praise be to Allah—Lord of all worlds.
Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to have my Masjid experience if they come to Stown Town, specifically women. For whatever reason, most Majids do not have a women's area. I don't understand why, for this reason, nearly all women in Zanzibar do not pray Eid prayer.
The Masjid I attended the most during my time in Stown Town had a women's section. That's the only Masjid I visibly saw have a women section. Having now travelled to other parts of Tanzania, I have seen many Masjids with women sections. So it is baffling to me why there is no women's section in nearly every Masjid in Stone Town.
Eid in Zanzibar
Eid in a Muslim country hits different. I've experienced Eid in a Muslim-majority country before, Burundi, with my brother and father's side of the family, but this Eid just felt different. I think what made this Eid even more special was that I was with my wife, my brother, who flew to Zanzibar one day before Eid, and my long-time friend from the UK. So it was an experience which felt somewhat surreal.
Breakdown of the day:
- We woke up to prepare for the Eid prayer, which starts at 07:30.
- My Uncle comes to pick my brother and me up to head to the Masjid
- We arrive at the Masjid, joined by my three other uncles and Grandfather.
- Eid prayer starts; this is an Ibadhi Masjid, so Eid Salah is slyly different from other Madhabs
- After Eid prayer, there is a sermon centred on the importance of continuing good habits, and we end up greeting everyone in the Masjid
- We arrived at my Grandfather's 2nd wife's house and had a light breakfast. The tradition with my Grandfather and uncles is, every Eid, they have a light breakfast at Grandfather's 2nd wife's house first, without his 1st wife knowing since she'll get mad because everyone will be too full to have their second breakfast, so it's kept as a secret that we got the house after prayer.
- Have breakfast at Grandfather's 1st wife's house.
13:00 - 15:30
- Everyone visits their in-laws or goes to rest up for the afternoon. We visited our other uncles, Grandmothers etc., during this time.
- Return to my Grandfathers 1st wife's house for lunch
17:00 - 19:00
- Everyone is chilling whilst people come over to greet my Grandfather and Grandmother.
21:00 until whenever
It's a packed schedule, right.
What made the day notable was I was spending time with an array of family members. Usually, it would be my two brothers and mother in the UK. In Tanzania, the whole gang's together, which makes it unique because you're conversing with everyone, getting to know more about them, and gift-giving. The whole day is just pure enjoyment.
I've just mentioned my family activities; for the rest of the country, Eid is not just one day; IT'S THE WHOLE WEEK!!
So after 19:00, there is a festival with food stalls, kids' games and many more. Families come to sit down and enjoy themselves.
Forodhani is jam-packed, to the point that there are no available benches for people to sit on, so people end up sitting on the floor and any surrounding area they could find.
Everyone is dressed up for the whole week; it's lovely because you feel a sense of unity in celebrating a religious holiday.
One of the best Eids I've ever had!!
To top it off, Eid was on Tuesday, so we organised trips for the rest of the week.
On Wednesday, my wife went to Prison Island with my brother and friend. I joined them later at the floating restaurant. We later went to the Hyatt Hotel to watch Man City vs Real Madrid Champions League Semi-Final 🔥
On Thursday, we went to Safari Blue, a guided tour that included snorkelling, swimming in a mangrove lagoon and a seafood buffet lunch.
On Friday we saw DOLPHINS!! Then we went to an underground swimming cave and finished off at a rooftop restaurant [which nearly killed me by serving my shellfish, which I'm allergic to, but we'll leave that out]
Whilst we were out and about doing our adventures, every night when we returned to Stown Town, we'll be introduced to party people all over the city. Honestly, the city didn't sleep from Tuesday till Sunday, and the vibes were different.
Ultimately this was the best Ramadan and Eid I've ever experienced. Having the pleasure to enjoy many moments with my wife, brother, and close friend is something that will live long in my heart.
From a spiritual perspective, having Ramadan in Zanzibar has made me want to spend at least two weeks in Zanzibar every Ramdan due to the environment strengthening and uplifting my Iman.
The experience has completely transformed me for the better, and I'm so grateful to Allah for blessing me with this experience. My only sad point is I missed my mother throughout the whole month.
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