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In Madinah for Ramadan, worshippers relish traditional hospitality

Friday August 19, 2011 06:10:43 PM, Yousuf Muhammad

After Asr prayers, thousands of citizens and residents of Madinah wheel food carts into the Prophet's Mosque to serve iftar meals to millions of worshippers who gather in the sprawling prayer complex during Ramadan.

(Photo: AN/Yousuf Muhammad)

Madinah: Serving iftar meals to help visitors to the Prophet’s Mosque break their fast is part of the rich tradition of the people of Madinah that dates back to the period of the Prophet (peace be upon him).


They lay out hundreds of thousands of iftar meals on sufras (plastic table spreads) to feed visitors to the mosque every evening throughout the holy month. These sufras, which make the longest dining table on the face of the earth, in a way reflect the immense hospitality of the people of Madinah.


Tasting this hospitality provides an inexplicable experience for almost all Umrah pilgrims and visitors who come from all over the world to visit the holy mosque during Ramadan.


Speaking to Arab News, a number of pilgrims shared their amazing experience of having an iftar meal at one of these sufras.


Khaled Hafeezuddin, a pilgrim from Bangladesh, says that his pilgrimage was the realization of a long cherished dream to perform Umrah and visit the two holy mosques.


“I worked hard for a long period of time to save the money to meet the cost of performing the pilgrimage in the holy month of Ramadan. It was a thrilling experience for me to watch the massive lines of iftar meals laid out inside the Prophet’s Mosque and its courtyards,” he said while praising the much commendable hospitality of the Madinah residents.


Muhammad Hamdi, an Egyptian pilgrim, also has no words to express his feelings about the vast facilities arranged for pilgrims at the holy mosque, especially during Ramadan.


“I thank Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and his government for making available all these facilities and services for the pilgrims and visitors to the holy mosque.


The marvelous sunshades that blend architecturally into the design of the historic mosque are of a great help for pilgrims as they protect them from the scorching sun,” he said.


There are a total of 250 large sunshades, each of which covers an area of more than 600 square meters and offers up to 800 pilgrims protection from the sun and heat. These sunshades provide a shaded area of 156,000 square meters.


There are also 500 huge fans that sprinkle cold water to provide comfort to the faithful while the mercury is soaring.


Many pilgrims commended the hospitality of Madinah people who start laying out sufras immediately after the Asr prayers. The iftar meals consist of the finest varieties of Madinah dates, juices, water, yoghurt and fruits such as oranges and bananas. They said that it is quite amazing for them to watch locals of all ages, including children, young men and the elderly, compete with each other in serving the food.


The local residents make preparations well in advance before the advent of the fasting month so meals can be distributed without any disruption.


On the first day of Ramadan, they start preparations immediately after Dhuhr prayers and reserve space to spread out the sufras. There are specific areas that Madinah families have been using for decades to spread their sufras.


“I have been laying down my sufras at this spot for 10 years,” said Ali Juma, a Madinah resident. “On the first day of Ramadan, we all arrive to confirm the actual space for spreading out the sheets. If nobody else has occupied the place, then we continue using it throughout the month. If we do not arrive at the right time, it is taken by those who come early,” he said, adding that this practice of reserving space was done in coordination with the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques.

“We are also meeting some specific conditions set by the presidency with regard to organizing iftar meals,” he added.


Usually, the presidency allows only dates, water, yoghurt, coffee and Al-Shiraik bread inside the mosque while fruits and juices as well as dishes made of rice, meat and chicken are allowed in the courtyards of the mosque. The cost for iftar meals ranges from SR2,000 to SR5,000.

The hundreds of thousands of the faithful sitting along two sides of the sufras spread out inside the mosque as well as on the vast sprawling courtyards of the mosque provide an amazing view.


People of various backgrounds, including Arab and non-Arab, white and black, are sitting patiently in front of the sufras, reflecting the unique principles of Islam’s universal brotherhood, unity and hospitality. They enjoy the spirit of hospitality inherited by the people of Madinah from their ancestors by feeding hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and visitors from various corners of the world.


The presidency has mobilized more than 5,000 men and women, including cleaning workers, to make available the best possible services for the pilgrims as well as to keep the holy mosque and its courtyards neat and tidy. It has also stocked more than 290 tons of Zamzam water to meet the demand during the holy month. 


This article appeared in Saudi Arabia's leading English daily

Arab News on August 19, 2011.









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