Absent Rituals and Empty Pockets

Ramadan Knocks on Doors of the Lebanese amidst ‘Hardest’ Suffocating Living Crisis
The mesaharaty maintained his cheerful presence in Sidon during the holy month of Ramadan.
In various Lebanese cities and towns Ramadan Iftar cannon fires a single shot at sunset throughout Ramadan to mark the maghrib prayer and breakfast
Hani Bohsali, Head of the Syndicate of Food Importers

“In any case have you returned, O Ramadan?”, ask the Lebanese people entangled in a living crisis that is stifling their worries, exacerbated by economic and social repercussions as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Add to that the impact of the continuous devaluation of the Lebanese pound and the “soaring” fuel prices. This “chain of events” has been aggravating the suffering of a people who are barely able to secure their daily sustenance, all while equipped with the minimum “steadfastness” elements in the face of the strong winds that have besieged them since 2019 due to an “incompetent and submissive” authority, which has brought the country to rock bottom.

By the beginning of the holy month, the preparations in the streets, shops, and even inside homes, are nothing like before. Despite easing COVID-19 measures that once restricted people’s “welcoming” of the fasting days during the last three years, this year has been “more tough.” People’s purchasing power has “betrayed” them, and their “almost empty” pockets prevent them from reviving Ramadan rituals and social customs. The lights of Ramadan lanterns, street decorations as well as homes have diminished, and group iftar feasts are “absent,” as even family banquets are “limited” due to the current circumstances.

Ramadan preparations are no longer as “copious” as they used to be. The iftar meal has become “expensive,” as the prices of the ingredients for a daily dish are “soaring” up high. This will render the preparations of the Lebanese on the basis of “every day for a day” and “sustenance in the hand of God.” Such indicators suggest that Ramadan traditions are diminishing; nonetheless, the Mesaharaty (pre-dawn drummer) might pop up roaming the streets of some remote villages, towns and the streets of the capital and old cities.

"NIL" PURCHASING POWER, "UNBELIEVABLE" PRICES AND STORING OF GOODS!

Lebanon is mired in the worst economic crisis since the end of the civil war in 1990, which led to a record devaluation of the national currency against the dollar. Moreover, the purchasing power of most citizens has collapsed and poverty rates have increased. Adding salt to the injury was the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war, with its repercussions affecting countries around the world, including Lebanon, which in turn depends on imports for its basic supplies of wheat and oils.

Prior to Ramadan, prices witnessed a “fiery” jump amid fear of the shortage of some basic materials due to the suspension of those supplies due to the war. There has been also a “storage wave” - despite the low purchasing power of the majority of the Lebanese, they have rushed to secure basic materials in an “unprecedented” state of panic out of fear of supply shortage.

In this context, Hani Bohsali, head of the Syndicate of Food Importers, confirmed to Majalla that "the difficult economic and living conditions and as COVID-19 persists, are all factors that may make this year's Ramadan the most difficult over the years in Lebanon," stressing that "the basic commodities for the month of Ramadan are available."

He considered that “It is known that the assortment of Ramadan goods has changed due to the circumstances, and the priority for people has become finding the basic types of grain, rice and oil.” Bohsali stressed that “despite the crisis, these supplies are present and sufficient for Ramadan, and there should be no frantic stockpiling, regardless that stockpiling itself is justified as people fear any threats against the security of goods and the increase in their prices, as there are many who are unable to afford their daily needs.”

As for prices, Bohsali explained, “The saying that prices always rise in Ramadan is incorrect. The market is based on supply and demand and its developments, especially imported goods, without disregarding the fluctuations in fuel prices globally and the exchange rate of the dollar locally.”

Regarding the percentage of consumption, Bohsali indicated, “The frantic shopping that took place two weeks ago mixed the numbers. The percentage of supermarket sales increased more than their daily or weekly rates, as the purchases were for the purpose of storage and not consumption.” He stressed that “the purchasing power of citizens largely declined to the extent that does not allow them to buy all their needs.”

“SIBANA RAMADAN” … A FADING TRADITION

Given the current circumstances, The Lebanese are compelled to abandon the customs they inherited, including “Sibana Ramadan.” Families used to come together and go to a cafe or restaurant to eat food, drinks and sweets on the last day of the month of Sha’ban in preparation for Ramadan. This, however, has become impossible for many in light of the rampant high prices, according to Mustafa Mansour, the owner of a restaurant in Beirut. He pointed out that "the traffic in general is light, and the cost of this tradition now exceeds the minimum wage, which stands today at around $30."

This tradition is fading away, along with it the popular festive atmosphere that many Lebanese cities and regions used to witness. Adults and children used to participate in these festivities, and scout groups and Sufi ensembles used to hold performances and competitions roaming the neighborhoods, during which participants chanted nasheeds and praises to welcomethe holy month.

CRISIS CREEPS UPON RAMADAN BANQUET

Lebanese will be welcoming Ramadan with heartbreak, struggling to provide food and buy goods, as the deteriorating situation has muffled their joy over the arrival of the month of goodness.

Despite the increasing prices, some are trying to “organize” their expenses in light of a “ravaging” crisis. Many of the dishes that once adorned the Ramadan banquet might not be present, from fatoush, to kibbeh, and jallab, among many other. For the main course for iftar and suhoor, some basic ingredients will definitely be absent, such as meat, with prices spiking to levels beyond the affordability of many families.

How will citizens be able to afford their breakfasts? Noha Trabulsi, a mother of three children, posed this question to sum up her “concern” about not being able to afford providing breakfast for her children. Most Lebanese share her concerned. She told Majalla that “Unlike the past years, I am unable to prepare for the holy month this time and provide the usual supplies, and the breakfast meal would barely comprise one dish.”

She said, “I was not able to prepare anything before Ramadan with all the electricity outages. Even if there is electricity, the ingredients for the cheese rolls, including the cheese and the dough are pricey, as well as meat and chicken. Additionally, an oil gallon now costs half a million Lebanese Lira.”

She added, “Even the ingredients for a Fattoush bowl need a budget with the increasing vegetable prices. Ramadan this year is different from its predecessors. Even the juices like tamarind and jallab, as well as the Ramadan sweets from Qatayef, Kellaj to Halawat Al Jibn will be off the menu. One will be only be able to have a taste of these in Ramadan twice tops, with limited incomes that do not suffice for one week.”

For his part, Houssam Hammoud, a father of four, expresses his sorrow over the current situation, saying, “Despite the severity of the situation, we hope that Ramadan will bring relief to everyone.” He noted that “the livelihood challenges are significant, as we are unable to secure many food items we were once used to on the Ramadan table, such as meat, chicken, juice, and dates – the price per kilo of the latter has reached 150,000 Lebanese Lira, even more.” 

AUSTERITY HITS STREETS, HOUSES DECORATIONS

Beirut and all the Lebanese regions are suffering “woes,” as municipalities are no longer able to afford allocating budgets for Ramadan decorations. Once again, rituals are gone with the wind and downsized to memories. The “austerity” resulting from the crisis situation had its repercussions on the streets, as well as the homes that grew “deprived” of a joy that once shined with lights, lanterns, flags and banners.

According to Issam Takkoush, the owner of a decorations and Ramadan props shop, the economic and livelihood crisis has taken its toll on the demand for Ramadan decorations. Due to the high prices, and unlike the past years, sales decreased by about 90%, after the Lebanese have let go of luxuries.” He noted that “the priority to buy the basics from food to drinks, among others, is no longer within the reach of several Lebanese who have changed, given the current situation, their patterns of celebrating occasions.

RAMADAN IFTAR CANNON

The Lebanese have kept the tradition of the Ramadan Iftar cannon, firing a single shot at sunset throughout Ramadan to mark the maghrib prayer and breakfast time. In major cities, the Lebanese army fires three shots when the month of Ramadan is confirmed, one artillery shell is fired before dawn, and another at sunset. At the end of the month and once the month of Shawwal is confirmed, three more artillery shells are fired to announce the end of Ramadan and the advent of Eid Al-Fitr.

THE MESAHARATY ... A HERITAGE TURNED INTO A PROFESSION!

“O! those who of you who are asleep, wake up and pray to Allah” … “Get up for your suhoor, Ramadan has come upon you.” This is how the mesaharaty chants while playing his drum from the first night of the holy month until the night when the Eid al-Fitr crescent is sighted. He wanders in the streets, neighborhoods and alleys to awaken the sleepers and invite people to eat the Suhoor meal. He calls the parents by their names, and the children wait for him by the window panes to call them by their names.

The mesaharaty maintained his presence despite the technological advancements and remained present even throughout COVID-19 lockdowns. The chants turned from a heritage tradition to a Ramadan profession to earn money, so the number of workers increased.

PRAYERS AND SUPPLICATIONS

Muslims in Lebanon celebrate the nights of Ramadan in mosques by praying and supplicating and reciting the Holy Qur’an. They will be able to retain such practices after the partial lifting of COVID-19 restrictions on religious places. Some of them are keen on performing the supererogatory prayers (Taraweeh) after breakfast, and others read a daily supplication, while they observe the three Qadr nights until dawn.

Some hold prophetic praises mawlids during the month of Ramadan, and some Islamic societies organize competitions for reading the Qur’an.


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