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How the holy month of Ramadan transforms Mombasa

Nothing brings the city of Mombasa alive like the month of Ramadan. There is a side that comes alive in the vibrant coastal city that has been shaped by age old customs and centuries of traditions.

Ramadan is one of the most important months in every Muslim’s calendar. Its during this month that Muslims deny themselves food and drink from dawn to dusk during a period of spiritual reflection. The fasting is observed by Muslims worldwide.

During the month of Ramadan, the coastal city of Mombasa literally comes alive. Different variety of food and snacks are sold alongside roads, mainly near mosques. Most shops and cafeteria also reschedule their hours of opening from day to night.

Muslims are expected to show self-restraint through fasting by denying themselves food, drink and sexual indulgence from dawn to dusk.

Family gatherings outside houses at time of Iftar (breaking the fast) are a common scene during Ramadan in Mombasa. However, with time this tradition is slowly being phased out as more families opt for meals indoors for security reasons.


“In the past, it was a tradition for most families to have their meals outside and share food with friends, neighbors and passersby during breaking of the fast. But the threat of terrorism and the ever rising insecurity have scared many people,” said Abdurrahman Sherrif, a dweller of Mombasa town.

Another Mombasa dweller, Mohammed Said, who operates a Tuk tuk says the nights are more overwhelming than the days especially near the end of the holy month.

“If you want to experience the tradition and culture of Mombasa, Ramadan is the best time to do so. Most activity is shifted to the night which I think is the best time because its much cooler,” said Mohammed.

Food vendors trading in coastal snacks at affordable prices are also a common sight from Markiti to Bondeni. Its a practice Mombasa residents call Al-Arsa, meaning varieties of food in Arabic.

And it is only during Ramadan that the food vendors come out in large numbers. People eat various coastal traditional meals, such as Muhogo wa nazi (cassava in coconut) mbaazi ya tuwi ya nazi, mahamri and chapati, tende (dates), mkate wa sinia, kaimati among others.

Over the years Mombasa has gone through numerous changes and facelifts but what really doesn’t change is its rich tradition during the holy month of Ramadan.