This post is also available in: Arabic

Holy Harar

Harar is a region located on a hilltop in the eastern extension of the Ethiopian highland. Known for its colorful houses and mosques, the Harari people repaint the walls every Ramadan with bright vibrant colors. The majority of Harari people are Muslims, and they are known to be very jovial and easygoing so that it’s almost is established as a trait that the Hararis possess. Harar is one of the oldest cities found in Ethiopia and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006.

Source: Facebook

Harar has more than 82 mosques dating back 7,000 years with more than 100 shrines; this fact deemed Harar to be one of the four holiest sites of Islam. Through different periods in history, 5 ancient gates were built surrounding the city. To name them in an anticlockwise order from Harar gate (a modern gate created under the reign of Haile Selassie to facilitate car access to the central Feres Megala square), they are Shoa (Victory Gate), Buda (Hakim Gate), Sanga (Peace Gate), Erer (Mercy Gate), and Fallana (Liberty Gate) gates. These gates encompass sacred Mosques and shrines, and although the exact periods they were built in aren’t clear, an estimate of when they were built is established between the 13th and 16th century at a height of 4 meters by one of the 72 princes of the city to protect it against attacks.

Source: Far and Wild Lives

“Believed to have been founded by Arabian immigrants around the 10th century, Harar became a crossroads for trade and culture, ideally situated between the Ethiopian highlands to the west and the shores of the Gulf of Aden to the east. The city evolved into a center of Islamic scholarship and culture and eventually was considered a sort of capital city of Islamic northeast Africa” reports CNN’s, James Jeffery. The city is highly influenced by Arabian immigrants; it was initially built as an Arab city. Hence, the buildings and Mosques all have distinct architectural details related to Arabian styles and cultures that influenced the city across different periods.

Source: No Leg Room

The City that Swallowed a Rainbow

Source: Mvslim

Harar, known as “The City of Rainbows”, is snaked by its colorful walls. Before Ramadan starts, locals gather to re-paint the walls of shrines, mosques, and throughout its narrow cobblestone lanes with vibrant colors to indicate the festivity of the occasion with various colors such as purple, yellow, green, orange, white, blue, and pink. Although these colors don’t have a special meaning, they are part of the emblazonment for the highly anticipated Ramadan.

Source: Pascal Mannaerts - A Harari woman going about her day through the alleyways of Harar, her red skirt compliments the warm color of the walls.

Source: Pinterest

Source: BBC

Living in a predominantly Muslim city, Hararis observes Ramadan in similar ways to other Muslim communities in Ethiopia and around the world. Muslims are forbidden to eat and drink during the day, including chewing Khat; a herbal drug sold openly in the streets, and like cigarettes, it is consumed normally by the Hararis in their daily routine. As a month of spirituality and self-observance, Muslims tend to better their religious duties in many ways.

Source: Huck magazine

Muslims indulge themselves in helping others who are less fortunate. Families or individuals who have a comfortable living condition prepare large meals throughout the day and give them out to people who can't afford to break their fast. That also goes for incarcerated people as an act of kindness. Non-Muslim Hararis also join their Muslim counterparts with charity and community activities in Ramadan, assisting and feeding the needy and unfortunate in this season.


Source: Jonathan Rashad via Huck magazine - The family gathered around Iftar time inside a traditional Harari house

As the sun sets,the Azahns call out marking the end of the day, and the excitement for Iftar time echoing from home to home is palpable. Muslims are then eager to share their happiness to break their fast with their families and enjoy a meal together. Harari iftar consists of a variety of dishes influenced by many regions and cultures over the years, such as sambusas, a favorite dish among Hararis made of thin sheets of dough filled with either lentils or meat.

Source: Pinterest – Sambusa

More dishes such as Fatira - egg pancakes cut into bite-size pieces, fenugreek stews, fried dough, barley soup, and more are served during an iftar meal. All of which are made by local and organic ingredients. For dessert, mushabaks are prepared, otherwise known as Jalebi, a fried intertwined dough soaked in a sweet syrup and drizzled in yogurt, a perfect treat to end the iftar meal and regain the sugar intake the feasters have been longing for. 

Source: Mark Wiens- Mushabak

Ramadan, as a much anticipated holiday season, requires a lot of preparation. It is a time where people come together and give out a helping hand. However, this Ramadan isn't the same as every year, although it might be far less scary and constricting than 2020. But with the continuous dangers of COVID-19, large gatherings are still prohibited in public congregations- especially in mosques. Yet the sense of community and togetherness is still intact, and Hararis still find a way to join together in good deeds and prayers, hoping the pandemic will end soon.

Source: Kisua Ethiopia

Kalkidan Zelalem

Kalkidan Zelalem  is studying biotechnology, but her passion lies in writing, photography, telling people’s stories, art and empowering people. She enjoys documentaries, whether they’re crime, investigative, or biopics. Kalkidan feels like an old soul and indulges herself in collecting vintage materials- books in particular- which she wholeheartedly owes to her late grandfather. Her ultimate goal is to shed light on Ethiopia’s richness and to inspire young women to stand up for themselves and never give up.