A Joyous Mood to Warm War-weary Hearts
A festive mood fills the Sabahi neighbourhood after sunset, drawing people from across the city to revel in the backdrop of coloured lights and balloons, along with offerings of cake and candy. Singing and a comedy show round out the night that proceeds after evening prayer on the last day of Sha’ban, the month before Ramadan begins.
Thanks to pooled contributions from local residents, Abdullah Mohammed, 21, and his friends have held this annual reception three years in a row.
“I wanted all the children in my neighbourhood to forget the misery of war that has dragged on in Taiz for seven years,” he said, “so we could bring them some joy during Ramadan.”
Women have a significant presence the day before the reception, sharing memories of past gatherings as they prepare the sweets to be served.
“Our grandmothers and aunts take us back in time with their stories,” said Yasmine Abdullah*, 37. “They transmit the beauty of Ramadan and renew our feelings of gratitude.”
Fahd al-Dharafi, 45, a researcher and historical archivist, believes such celebrations marking the start of Ramadan revive a sense of unity and harmony among residents of all ages.
“These receptions are proof of the cohesion of Yemen’s social fabric in light of the unique diversity that characterises many regions of the country,” he said.
A Spiritual Ambience for Residents and Visitors
Named the Arab Region’s capital of Islamic Culture in 2010, this city in Hadhramaut is known as a home to religious and spiritual scholars where a variety of sects coexist. Tarim prepares for Ramadan with distinctive lighting of minarets, the burning of incense in mosques, and decorations at marketplaces that lend a mellow atmosphere.
During the holy month in Tarim, nights are imbued with expressions of faith and spirituality. Prayers, hymns, and songs drift from minarets, especially Tarawih, a prayer whose name means to rest and relax. Unlike the rest of the Islamic world, Tarim features the chanting of this prayer until midnight during Ramadan.
“One of Tarim’s customs is the timing of Tarawih that varies from one mosque to another by a quarter of an hour,” said Ali Sabih, general secretary of the local council.
Starting at 7:30 p.m., this staggered sequence ensures that people in each neighbourhood can pray in a congregation at the time that best suits their daily rhythms. The prayers continue until midnight.
This special timing helps people balance the spirituality of the holy month with practical aspects of daily life, such as work hours.
“In shops, for example, people can divide duties and cover for each other as some leave for prayer,” said Abdul Samad Najib, 27, a displaced Yemeni from Dhamar Governorate. “This is a beautiful custom that Tarim can be proud of.”
Rejoicing in Recitation
Khatayem, a reading of the Qur’an’s final verses, is an annual Ramadan tradition that takes place all over the region of Hadhramaut. In Mukalla, it has special significance.
Throughout the holy month, the Qur’an is read or recited daily, usually after the Tarawih prayers. The chapters of the Qur’an, or surahs, are divided into portions so that only the final verses remain for the last day.
The ceremony follows with dua’, prayers of invocation, for over an hour.
Afterwards, people head toward cemeteries to chant prayers and litanies for the dead. The sound of drumbeats fills the air as people walk in groups to observe this hallowed ritual.
The khatayem also has a social dimension. People who reside near mosques invite their relatives for the last iftar of Ramadan before attending the ceremony together.
The tradition has taken on a new feature in recent years: young people have staged various events such as contests, games and even parades on the same day. Street vendors display their wares near mosques and welcome visitors.
Noor Mohammed, a medical student at Hadhramaut University, sees the khatayem as both a spiritual and social event. During family gatherings at her grandmother’s home, she delights in buying candy for her nieces and nephews when she takes them out for a stroll.
“The children are happy, the youth compete to see who can put on the best festivities, and everyone takes part in decorating their neighbourhoods,” she said. “Mukalla becomes a lovely canvas of beauty and togetherness.”
Goodness From Every Home
After the evening prayer, around 50 Sana’a residents gather to break the fast at a table laden with various dishes as part of a project launched three years ago by Osama al-Shihari, 28, a production manager at a media company.
“After we completed a neighbourhood cleanup campaign, we thought a large iftar could create an atmosphere of joy, solidarity, and interdependence,” said al-Shihari, who made his vision a reality with help from a group of like-minded young people.
The initiative, called Goodness from Every Home, is not limited to a specific neighbourhood, he explained. Last year, eight communities were involved. The number was lower this year, but enthusiasm was undiminished.
Ramy al-Matari, 20, a charity volunteer, said this kind of collective iftar fills him with gratitude.
“I wish it would continue,” he added, “because it’s uplifting and leaves beautiful memories for children.”
There’s much more to this event than breaking the fast in the company of others, said Mohammed Ahmed, 42, a vendor.
“When people sit together at one table like this, they create a space for tolerance and reconciliation between adversaries,” he explained.
Munzir Hassan, 23, who’s attending this gathering for a second time, finds it a vital antidote to warfare.
“The setting allows new friendships to emerge,” he said.
Feriha Hassan, a Yemeni singer, often takes part in these iftars by performing traditional Ramadan songs. The 70-year-old is delighted that young people play a role in bringing people together this way.
“If it weren’t for their revival of the collective iftar tradition, our customs that foster cooperation and compassion would disappear.”
Expressions of Love Through Cuisine
The voices of children chanting in welcome are a common sound in the streets of this city that heralds the onset of Ramadan as a month of love and forgiveness. In the last few minutes before the evening prayer, youngsters carrying containers filled with Yemeni dishes for iftar dart from house to house. Afterwards, they return home with those same containers full of food offered in exchange for what they distributed.
Hiba al-Saadi, 49, looks back fondly on her childhood memories of this Ramadan custom.
“My mother, may God rest her soul, used to send me to our neighbours’ houses,” she said. “I would give out samosas, falafel, mdarbash (a Yemeni pastry), and shafout (flatbread served with a tangy sauce).”
“She always cooked those dishes with love,” al-Saadi added.
Family members take turns hosting iftar feasts, with larger families gathering daily under one roof. People break the fast with many types of foods; shafout is a favourite appetizer for Yemenis of all backgrounds. In Aden, iftar desserts abound: baklava, knafeh (a sweet cheese pastry), qatayef (cream-filled dumplings), bint al-sahn (flaky honey cake), and lokma (fried dough balls). Beyond family gatherings, mass iftar gatherings take place in Aden’s streets at sunset, where rich and poor break bread together.
A Celebration of Fellowship
Viewed from a distance, the lamplit houses of Raymah appear as a sparkling tableau that reflects solidarity and equality.
Preparations for Ramadan in Raymah are infused with a spirit of cooperation. In a joint effort to scrub the city with cleaning materials and fresh paint, residents also come together to light mosques and supply drinking water to worshippers who arrive for evening prayer. Villagers decorate houses and public offices for evening recitations of the Qur’an.
Women prepare iftar meals from Raymah’s standard crops, including coffee, corn, barley, millet, and fenugreek, coordinating the cooking and distribution of special dishes. Those who own cows provide milk, while others make lahoh, a spongy, pancake-like bread, saltah, a Yemeni stew, and soup. When everything’s ready, families share what they’ve prepared in exchange for other dishes, not unlike a potluck.
“During Ramadan, children buzz around like bees before sunset as they go back and forth between houses with dishes full of food,” said Um Ayman, 60, a homemaker from Raymah’s al-Jabeen District.
Twelve-year-old Shimaa al-Dhubaibi cherishes her delivery tasks.
“For me, one of the most beautiful moments in Ramadan is when my mother sends me to take lahoh to my grandfather, my aunt and our neighbours,” she said. Afterwards, she returns with a bounty for her family.
“All the way home, I can smell the delicious food, waiting impatiently for the sunset prayer so I can eat it with the rest of my family,” she added.
* not her real name.