Unique Ramadan traditions still enchant Asir

Many traditions are rooted in the month Ramadan in Asir.

Some of these traditions, such as lighting fire atop mountains to announce the start of the holy month, have been abandoned with the advent of modern technology. Mealtime traditions, however, are still going strong.

Indeed, Asir’s residents have not given up on old cooking habits and foods that are made using stone pots.

Mutual visits, known as “doul” and “sayyar,” are two important cultural traditions during Ramadan that are taken up after the taraweeh prayers. “Doul,” a dated type of social connection where hosts offer nuts, juice and light snacks, can also take the form of “iftar,” the breaking of the fast.

“This type of visit can take place between families, neighbors and friends,” said Umm Saad, a local.

The visits, which usually start off with the most senior member of the family or neighborhood on the first night of Ramadan, continue in order of seniority throughout the month, she said. Asir’s residents are keen on maintaining old traditions and protecting such traditions from extinction, asserted Umm Saad.

“Another custom is the family fund, where blood relatives donate money to ensure social solidarity with less fortunate members of the family,” she said.

Many women in Asir, meanwhile, continue to send daily iftar meals, consisting of a jug of coffee, dates and bread, to local mosques.

“Urbanization has led to the eradication of many of our unique traditions,” said Mohammed Al-Asiri, another local.

Nevertheless, residents still frequent the traditional, livestock and commercial markets after the late afternoon prayers every day to stock up on traditional foods such as ‘maghash,’ ‘hilba,’ ‘baqil,’ ‘shourba’ (soup) and ‘sambousak’ (pastries).

“I buy new furniture and kitchen utensils every Ramadan, while men often go buy sheep for slaughter,” said Umm Muhammad.

One of the most prominent ancient customs is lighting fires atop mountains, which one local said marked the start of Ramadan in the absence of media sources.

Fires remained lit until residents in surrounding villages were made aware of the advent of Ramadan.
Ramadan preparations used to be made out in the open thanks to the old structure of mud and stone houses.

“During old times, family visits would be rampant after taraweeh prayers,” he said. “People used to talk about religion, literature and poetry, which has since sadly been replaced with modern day soap operas and television programs,” he said. Ali Maghawi, an author, said Asir’s residents used to ensure they visited families who had suffered the death of a loved one on the first day of Ramadan. Locals would keep them company, decorating their houses both inside and out and painting their windowsills and doors.

The sound of Qur’anic recitation floods households all over local neighborhoods.

Another popular tradition is painting henna on cows and sheep the night before Ramadan.

In larger villages, children distribute cups of food.

“Older women purchase ‘mifa,’ a household stove, to make traditional meals special to the area,” said Maghawi. “They also buy special paint for wooden chairs, which are usually painted in red and black.”





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