Fridays in Mauritania
I suppose we have all been there – the first week is completely crazy! Suddenly the fact of missing my connecting flight and staying another day in Casablanca made me feel even more anxious and I just wanted to arrive in Nouakchott. But of course I enjoyed that unexpected day in Morocco. And finally my plane left at midnight, there was a tremendous line to get the visa and I arrived home at about 4 in the morning. But is there a better welcome than just making home and listening to call to prayer?!
Monday comes along and eventually I am at the office… I am introduced to everybody (first thought – I won’t be able to remember all the names and everybody’s job!) but little by little without actually noticing it Monday passes and I have somehow learnt who is who and their job (but remembering the names is still a challenge). During the first couple of coffees I had my first chats with my colleagues, and before I know it… it’s already Friday, only a week has passed but time’s flown away. I arrived at the office and everybody is super well-dressed. It turns out Fridays are the most important days of the week and so I started asking questions to my local mates. “Why are you so smart today?” “Is because Eid al-Adha, Monday’s holiday?” And they offered me a culture lesson: it was an innocent question but what a lesson I had in return!
It turns out Fridays are the most important days of the week for Muslim people. They get together to pray side by side, there’s a special lecture in the mosque, it’s the day in which they gather to worship God, the day where everybody takes care of oneself, of their clothes and the people around… We could say it is like our Sunday, a free day, a day of rest, of reflection, of helping and taking care of oneself.
But the most striking thing is that all the shops are open… I was quite confused, isn’t is a day off? Well, it is so, they have a fairly special timetable, lunchtime is a bit longer than usual but once the sun goes down, the city gets back to life, like every city in which the sun is deadly until the evening, and the streets suddenly start bursting with people and activity.
This is because the evening prayer on Fridays (Yumu’ah) is longer than usual and people say that if you ignore it more than three times consecutively the believer may go away from the path of God. And according to what I have been told, during this prayer Prophet Muhammad will hear the prayers of the believers. Now, all of that is only compulsory for men, women and kids can always join in, but they are not obliged. Women go very often to the hammam on Fridays since this activity is based on two concepts present during Fridays: taking care of the body and taking care of others, but for women it is an opportunity to enjoy some moments for themselves and, for sure, to catch up and pick up gossip from their friends.
The only reason accepted for not attending the Yumu’ah is being sick, especially if it is a contagious disease. But there’s the option of making the dhuhr prayer instead – in private or in a mosque. But above all my favourite thing is the beautiful chanting, used to call to prayer, and the lack of coordination among mosques – one starts, soon after another one, and then another one and another, it’s mesmerising.
Besides, this Friday was even more relevant because it was Eid al-Adha, or Festival of the Sacrifice, the next Monday. It commemorates the passage of the Qur’an in which God asks the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his first son, Isaac, as a proof of his faith, but once his obedience had been tested and before the sacrifice was conducted, God intervened and changed Isaac’s life for that of a lamb.
Tradition has it that on the very morning of Eid al-Adha, and after the special prayer of that day after the sunrise, the head of the household is in charge of the sacrifice of the lamb. But the sacrifice must be as pain-free as possible for the animal: its head is pointing at Mecca and all blood must completely come out of the body in order to consider the meat as halal.
Although this may seem a bit bloody, there are also good things since a third of the lamb meat is given to the needy, the orphans and the very poor, regardless their religion.
By Virginia López, Senior EU Aid Volunteer in Finace and Logistics in Mauritania.
Translated by Juan Antonio Sabariego, EU Aid Online Volunteer.