I was privileged to be staying in the heart of Sarajevo during Ramadan. And therefore, my experience was very unique – definitely not the average experience. However, the Ramadan spirit and atmosphere reverberates throughout the city among practicing and non-practicing Muslims. And, oh boy, is it a joyous atmosphere.
In this post, I will highlight some of the most unusual and special Ramadan aspects in Sarajevo, though, I doubt I will be able to do it justice.
At 2 am, I gathered with the few residents of the medresa in the cafeteria for suhoor
is the early morning meal before Muslims begin their fast for the day. The fast starts technically 1.5 – 2 hours before sunrise and it is tied to the first prayer time. This is nothing pretty. It is late. It is dark. We have sleepy faces. And, we are stuffing our faces. It is almost a race to see how much you can eat before it is time to stop eating.
In Ramadan, more than any other time, Muslims frequent the mosques. So, going to the early morning prayer, fajr, had a great atmosphere, alive and full of so many people.
Taken after fajr prayer, around 4:30 am
Each day I usually slept until 10. Okay. I lied. I usually slept until noon. The nights in Ramadan are very long. And given that I was in close proximity of so many mosques within the old town, I scheduled my day around praying in different mosques in the city for each prayer.
Baščaršija Mosque. One of the most prominent mosques right next to a main square after which the mosque was named. This makes the mosque actually extremely convenient for drinking coffee, taking a break for prayer, then going back to the coffee session.
Ferhadjia Mosque. Ottoman’s had a practice of having some small burying-ground in the mosque courtyard.
Ordinary in Sarajevo. Though, it felt a bit creepy sometimes.
Meanwhile, during the day I walked around the streets enjoying the liveliness of the city.
It was rainy on a couple of days I was there. Though, that generally didn’t stop people from going about their days.
On my first day in Sarajevo, someone told me that Ramadan in Sarajevo is all about the smell of somun bread. For a second I shrugged it off as a hungry man. But, honestly, the smell of somun bread is just amazing.
Okay. I have no good picture of somun bread. I usually ate it so fast without taking a moment to capture it. But you should google it. (Warning: do not google it while fasting).
Although it was Ramadan, restaurants were still open during the day. It is an ironic thing about the city. I was told even the non-practicing Bosnians enjoy the iftar meal and frequent the restaurants for special iftar meals.
Bosnian burek made in the sač
Other dishes can be cooked in the sač as well. Deliciousness. There was once burek I bought once that was so delicious it started a friendly fight with Sufjan because he ate the last bite, which was mine!
Similar to fajr prayer in the video above, the mosques are usually buzzing with people. And, there are imams and Quran hafiz (people who memorize the Quran) reciting Quran after prayers throughout the day.
Iftar is the main spectacle in Sarajevo. Unlike Senegal, Bosnians eat their meal right when the cannon retorts. And yes, I do mean a cannon. it is an Ottoman tradition to fire a cannon when it is time for iftar. I had only heard it used as a phrase, the Ramadan cannon, but I had never seen it in action. Until I came to Sarajevo.
The cannon fired a shot of fireworks with a really loud noise. What I loved the most about it was that so many people were at the top of the hill waiting for it to go off. The minute it did, each went to their respective picnic table to eat their iftar. And some were not fasting, but were there for the spectacle.
A Bosnian Santa Claus?
He’s probably just really hungry too and ready to go eat.
My favorite was when I waited at the porch of the mosque for maghrib time (sunset). People would stand around until it was time. Then dates and water were given out to everyone. We prayed and then people rushed to their respective dinners.
I doubt the little kid was fasting, but his face said otherwise. Turkish delights are not a staple on iftar menus around the world, but I was not surprised to see it here.
At Maghrib, the call for prayer was made outside in front of the mosque between the hungry crowds
I was never once disappointed with an iftar meal. This was at a restaurant. There was soup and salad before this. At the forefront is touba, which was the gastronomic revelation of this trip. It is sour cream, butter, and cheese cooked together. Deliciousness.
I was invited to an iftar at one home, and it was probably a 4 or 5 course meal. That night I didn’t need to eat suhoor.
At a small mosque of approximately 20-30 attendants – a neighborhood mosque where actually everyone knew everyone.
ended at around midnight each night, which was only a couple of hours before suhoor
time. So, after tarweeh
it was time for coffee or shisha
On a random evening, we ran into this musical session. Islamic themed music praising the Prophet was played using the drum and vocals.
Coffee and shisha was enjoyed until suhoor time. For suhoor, I usually ate at the medresa’s cafeteria. As mentioned before, it is late at night at the cafeteria, which is located in the basement of the medresa. So I will leave it to your imagination what eating to prepare for an 18-hour fast looks like.
Faisal (left) and Kemal (right) have been friends for 9 years. This Ramadan Faisal is the muthen (the person who performs the call to prayer) and Kemal leads the taraweeh prayer.
Ammar is on a journey to explore Islam in different countries around the world. He wants to show that Islam is a faith not exclusive to a single ethnicity. He hopes that these stories become part of the conversation about tolerance and acceptance in America.
For more information, visit our page about this journey.