An Algerian Ramadhan

Looking around the world, and at the way Ramadhan is celebrated, I found a former expatriate American teacher from the University of Nizwa, Amanda Amarotico, who converted to Islam during her time here, and also married Samir, in 2017, while in the Sultanate. The couple had difficulty finding employment in a shrinking job market, and the couple have subsequently returned to the city of Oran, in Algeria.

Oran is the second-largest city behind Algiers. The city is known as ‘The City of the Lions,’ and is the birthplace of the famous fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Interestingly, the observance is known in Algeria as ‘Sidna Ramadhan,’ or ‘our master’s Ramadhan.

Hana Saada wrote that, “It is traditional also in Algeria to clean and prepare local mosques, and to do a house ‘Spring clean,’ prior to Ramadhan, so as to welcome guests and visitors to a sparkling clean house, and many women will take advantage of the time of year to insist upon new cutlery and kitchen utensils, and sometimes even carpets and rugs, so the markets do a thriving trade in the month leading into Ramadhan.”

Amarotico, herself now firmly established in Algeria, ruefully explained that “This year will be vastly different with coronavirus. Last year we would walk the promenade along the sea-front, with many others, enjoying the beautiful Mediterranean Sea breeze in the evening. Many people would be out and about, shopping and going to cafeterias on the promenade (corniche) and tea being sold by the vendors. It was so nice, but this year there will be none of that.”

“None of the mosques are open, and no traditional gatherings with friends and families in the evenings, but usually the closer family will have Iftar together. Two women friends I  worked with all morning preparing the evening’s food, rest and read the Quran in the afternoon, We usually break our fast with dates, laban, milk, water, and a soup called Harira, a delicious traditional soup with tomatoes, chickpeas, and lentils.

Then we will go to maghreb prayer. After prayers, we take the main, Iftar meal, which will probably include an olive tagine with chicken, fish and lamb. Or maybe slow-cooked meat, Jwaz, or roast whole meats, Mechoui, and stuffed grape or cabbage leaves called dolma. Another soup, Chorba hamra fdaouech, is made with lamb, vermicelli and vegetables, lots of salads, vegetables, and traditional breads kesra and khobz eddar, complete a wonderful main meal.”

She laughed, “all in all, that’s too much food after a fast, and then there are the sweets.” The traditional favourites are well known all around the Mediterranean and Middle East for their sweetness and texture without being sticky. Tamina is a semolina and honey-based dish eaten with a spoon, and in small amounts. Chamia is a semolina and almond cake usually taken with coffee, while Mkhabez is a traditional pastry. The piece de resistance, however, is a melt-in-the-mouth Makroud el louse, a flourless cookie.

All the talk of food does not diminish the fact that Algerians observe their Sidna Ramadhan with any less religious vitality than is appropriate. The call to prayer is followed by trumpet blasts and green lanterns being lit and hung high in the mosques, to advise of the time for Iftar. Readings of the Holy Quran, and Quranic memorisation contests are also high-profile televised events in the country.

Every country is slightly different in its observance of the most important religious month of the Islamic calendar, and Algeria simply adds to the jigsaw.