Suumayee: A Month of Prayer and Fasting

Suumayee, also known as Ramadan to the Muslim world, is celebrated during the ninth month of the Islamic year. This month was chosen because it during this month that Mohammed received the first of the Quran’s revelations. This is a time when Muslims are to fast from sun-up to sundown, neither eating nor drinking while it is light. Observed as a family and as a community, it is a call to them to renew their faith.

The five pillars of Islam are central to the Fulbe’s religious beliefs. The third pillar is explicit in calling all Muslims to fast. Fasting and praying are exercised, not out of free will, but because the Quran commands it. The Quran says that Allah desires them to fast during this month so that they may magnify him and render thanks to him for giving them his guidance. When the Fulbe fast during Suumayee, it is considered a way to atone for their sins and seek His blessing. At the culmination of the fast month, there is a huge feast where many sacrifices are made and families gather to celebrate.

An outsider can only observe what a renewal of faith symbolizes for the Fulbe. One observation that strikes a viewer is that the bond of kinship is strengthened. While it might seem that each one only feels his own stomach, Suumayee is a family time, as people gather together during the day to pray and in the evening to break the fast together. These same family ties are used to pressure individuals who might otherwise be tempted to break the fast. The appearance of fasting is important if for no other reason than to convince fellow brothers in Islam that they are genuinely following the law.

Suumayee also strengthens the community. Whether the individual is renewed is not as important as the community coming together in their struggle to fast for their faith. This coming together involves more than food: women who normally go out without scarves wear them this month. Makeup and fancy hairstyles are also laid aside for the month. Men who might otherwise wear western clothing may change back to robes, and will certainly wear a prayer cap. Most will be careful what forms of entertainment they enjoy, and many who might otherwise go out in the evening will stay home with family and neighbors. Taken together, these forms of abstinence show their families and the community that they are taking their faith seriously.

One night of the month is dedicated to a special time of reading the Quran and praising God. On the 27th night of the month, men will gather at their local mosque to pray, to recite or listen to the Quran and to share in the chanting. This is the night of power, a night of blessing for those who share in it, and a night to commemorate the first revelation that Mohammed received.