Ramadan in Harar
Egyptian photojournalist Jonathan Rashad shares his experience of Ramadan in Harar, the fourth Islamic holiest cities.
“For me, the best thing about Ramadan is that it brings people together,” explains Egyptian photojournalist Jonathan Rashad. “Friends and family you don’t see often, to meet during Iftar (when the fast is broken) and eat together.”
While on assignment for UNICEF in Ethiopia in July 2015, Jonathan took a day out to witness celebrations of the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan in the ancient city of Harar.
Ethiopian Muslims walk into their homes before Iftar time in Harar, Ethiopia
An Ethiopian Muslim family eats during Iftar time outside a mosque in Harar
“On the way to Dire Dawa, a city in the Oromia region, I stopped for one day in Harar,” Jonathan remembers. “It was a great decision, I fell in love with the city. I was struck by the structure of the old historic wall surrounding the city, the colours of scarfs and dresses the residents wore, the structure of the mosques and shrines, the tiny alleys of the city and how we were treated – they treated us like family.”
Harar was once an important centre of Islamic culture and religion in the Horn of Africa during the late Middle Ages. Home to a total of 184 mosques and shrines, Harar is considered the fourth holy city of Islam. Its famous wall was built in the sixteenth century by Emir Nur ibn Mujahid to protect against attack from the neighbouring Christian Ethiopian Empire, but today Muslims and Christians share the city in peace.
A Khat market in Harar, Ethiopia during Ramadan. Even though Yemen is the most known country for consuming Khar, Ethiopia was allegedly the first country to ever grow the plant, which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria.
Street vendors sell drinks to observant Muslims before Iftar in Harar
Jonathan was interested to see the differences between how Ramadan was observed in Harar and in Cairo, where he’s based. “In Egypt, there are very specific Ramadan-related traditions,” he explains. “People hang lanterns around the streets, a cannon is fired to notify observant Muslims with Iftar time, kids decorate their schools before the Holy Month begins and rich people offer free food to the poor at Iftar. In Harar, I saw none of this. Ramadan was not seen on the street. It was seen instead inside the house of the observant Muslims and near the mosques.”
Ethiopian Muslims pray at a mosque in Harar
An Ethiopian Muslim family in their home at Iftar time
Although still a predominantly Muslim city, Harar has a far more relaxed attitude to the observance of Ramadan than Jonathan is used to at home. “In Cairo, the bars and hotels ban selling alcoholic drinks to Egyptians during Ramadan,” he explains. “But in Harar, bars were still operating and I got to try the beer produced in the city, known as Harar Beer. It was totally fine to eat or drink on the street, but in Cairo it’s almost a taboo to drink or eat on the street before Iftar time.”
A bartender at a bar in Harar, Ethiopia during Iftar time. Even though Harar is conservative, the city produces its own beer and has a few bars.
An Ethiopian Muslim family eats during Iftar time inside their home
An Ethiopian Muslim prays inside a mosque during Tarawih prayers. Tarawih are extra prayers performed by Sunni Muslims during Ramadan.
Ethiopian Muslims perform Wu?u at a mosque in Harar. Wu?u is an Islamic obligatory procedure for washing parts of body (hands, mouth, ears, head, feet) before prayer.
Ethiopian Muslims pray at a mosque during Ramadan
A grocery market in Harar during Ramadan
An Ethiopian street vendor sells Khat in a grocery market in Harar. Even though Yemen is the most known country for consuming Khar, Ethiopia was allegedly the first country to ever grow the plant.
An Ethiopian Muslim cooks at her place in Harar
An Ethiopian child stands by a mosque in Harar during Iftar time
An Islamic shrine that overlooks the Ethiopian city of Harar