Ramadan has a special place in the hearts of the Tunisian people. Apart from being a month used as a momentum to increase concern for others, Ramadan in Tunisia is decorated with lively cultural arts performances which are enlivened every night during the holly month.
By: Nata Sutisna, Indonesian citizen in Tunisia, student at Zitouna University.
This year, the Tunisian Ministry of Culture is holding the second edition of its cultural program which is named, ‘Ramadan in the City’ or ‘Ramadan a la Cité’ and is held from the beginning to the end of Ramadan in the City of Culture, Tunis. I also participated in enjoying the cultural performances, which consisted of; music and dance performances, theatrical performances, and film screenings.
What caught my attention was that each artist or artists who appeared at the cultural performance had their own characteristics. They not only entertain, but also convey good values and messages of humanity through their works.
For example, Lotfi Bouchnak, a legendary singer and composer originally from Tunisia, through his works, he is able to convey the spirit of love for the country, mutual cooperation, peace and optimism. Among his songs that are patriotic and call for love for the motherland are entitled, “Ana Mouwaten (I am a Child of the Nation), Ana Al Arabi (I am an Arab Nation), Yahia Essalem (Live in peace), Ya Al-Khadra (Oh Green), and others. Apart from that, he also wrote love songs and blessings on the Prophet.
As an artist, Lotfi Bouchnak has inspired many people, especially the people of Tunisia. He is able to spread Islamic principles and values that are full of kindness, love and compassion through music. This reminds me of the story of Wali Songo, which was always told by teachers at Islamic boarding schools, that Wali Songo made culture an infrastructure for preaching and building civilization.
Likewise in Tunisia. I felt firsthand how much the Tunisian Muslim community respects and cares for their culture. They are religious without anti-local culture and respect each other, which in Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur’s) idea is called ‘Indigenization of Islam’, that is, universal Islamic values are instilled into the culture of society.
Apart from that, I was also impressed by the lively people of Tunisia celebrating the 27th night of Ramadan. They believe that the 27th night of Ramadan is the peak night of Lailatul Qadar. On that night, Tunisian people come and fill the mosques, especially the Zitouna Mosque — a mosque that has stood in the heart of the Old City of Tunis since the late 7th century — to carry out the Tarawih prayers and reciting al-Qur’an which are led directly by the tarawih imam on reading every cycle of prayer.
What impressed me even more was that after the people of Tunisia performed the Tarawih prayers and shared prayers, the Government of Tunisia under the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Tourism gave a light show that shone on the minarets of the mosque as entertainment and tourism promotion for the Old City of Tunis. Not only that, the Tunisian Ministry of Culture also held a Sufi music and dance performance guided by artist Sami Al-Lajmi in the City Palace area (Qasr al-Baladiyah), near the Zitouna Mosque.
So, after the Tunisian people have experienced the atmosphere of Ramadan worship in a solemn and solemn manner, they can enjoy the lively atmosphere of Ramadan with Sufi music and dance performances. Tunisian people drift into the chanting of poems, prayers, and Sufi readings sung by Al-Lajmi.
I witnessed firsthand how the blessings of Ramadan in Tunisia are truly alive and meaningful, so that everyone feels its goodness. Therefore, in my opinion, the blessings of Ramadan are not only interpreted as a month in which all the rewards of good deeds are multiplied, but also can be interpreted as a month in which the broadest and ever-increasing goodness is given to anyone.
Apart from participating in celebrating Ramadan in the capital city, I also visited the city of Zaghouan, a small area not far from the city of Tunis. The trip to the city can be reached in 40 minutes. My purpose in visiting this city is because I want to witness the activities of Ramadan. Is it true that the cultural celebration of Ramadan is held in all cities in Tunisia? It turned out that the answer was correct, and each city in Tunisia has its own way of celebrating Ramadan.
Zaghouan caught my attention because this small town has a green landscape and is filled with mountains. Really, being in the city of Zaghouan, reminds me of my hometown in Indonesia. The area is beautiful and green, making me feel at home to stay for three days at a friend’s house, while feeling the atmosphere of Ramadan in a Tunisian village.
In addition, the city of Zaghouan is also known as a city that was occupied by many Sufis in the past. One of them is Shaykh Sidi Ali Azouz, a Sufi who comes from a noble family in Fez, Morocco. He migrated from Morocco and settled in Tunisia in 1672 AD. One of his stories that amazed me is that, during his lifetime, he donated his wealth for the benefit of science and humanity.
As a Sufi Ulama, Sidi Ali Azzouz has many students who study under him. However, all the needs of his students, from pocket money, food, to housing, actually come from his personal assets. This story actually inspired me, because it turns out that the stronger and closer a human being’s relationship with his God, the greater his concern for others.
Therefore, the meaning of a Sufi scholar for Tunisians is not interpreted as someone who is alone and does not care about the interests of others, but is interpreted as a person who is balanced between his relationship with God (hablumminallah) and his relationship with others (hablumminannas). This should be a motivation for us, that the knowledge we have, should be able to give birth to care and compassion for others.
Ibn Khaldoun, the father of Tunisian civilization, in his book ‘Al-Muqaddimah’ says, ‘al-Insanu Madaniyyun bi al-Thabi’, which means that every human being needs another human being. The theory invites us to live in society, work together, care, and empathize with others. That is what Sidi Ali Azzouz, a Sufi scholar from Zaghouan, Tunisia, did.
Staying in Zaghouan city for three days, I also attended a cultural performance held at Bab Al-Kous, Zaghouan city center with the name, “Local Treasures Exhibition”. The event was attended by artists and all residents of Zaghouan, from children to adults.
Interestingly, apart from being enlivened by the performance of prayer, this Ramadan night activity was also enlivened by paintings and handicrafts exhibited by artists from Zaghouan. The atmosphere of Ramadan is not only lively, but also brings blessings to MSME players in the city of Zaghouan.
Ramadan in Tunisia is so meaningful and has cultural nuances. I learned that expressing goodness is not only limited to formal worship spaces, but there are many functional worship options that we can also carry out. Because in truth, Ramadan is a momentum for us to compete in spreading a lot of goodness, one of which is through culture.
Article by Nata Sutisna, Indonesian citizen in Tunisia, student at Zitouna University.
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