JEDDAH: Sha’abanah is a tradition in Saudi Arabia, particularly in the Hijaz region, in which people mark the end of the month of Shaban, the eighth month of the Islamic calendar, before the fasting month of Ramadan.
Friends and families go out on group tours, play popular games, eat a variety of foods and entertain themselves before they get ready to devote their Ramadan time to worshipping Allah.
It is not clear when this custom started. However, historians and elders are certain it has been celebrated for almost a century. As for the name, it clearly came from the month in which it is observed.
Abdullah Kurdi, the minister plenipotentiary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Arab News that while Sha’abanah can be practiced everywhere, the Hijazi people, who live along the way from Taif through Makkah and Jeddah to Madinah, inherited the tradition. “Families in one of these cities exchange visits with their relatives who live in another city,” Kurdi said.
He said that because Taif is more than 400 kilometers from Madinah, and in the past families feared they could be attacked or get lost, two or more families would make the journey together. The activities that began then have now become part of the tradition.
“During their travel, they stop at a mountain or under trees to prepare their meals and have some hot drinks afterward. They enjoy their gathering during which men show their cooking skills, while women are treated like queens,” Kurdi said.
After Shaban, men in the four cities often move away from their families during what they call “the season,” referring to the period from Ramadan to Hajj (the 12th month). “The season is a chance for all tradesmen, workers and even ordinary people of the Hijaz region to get busy working during Hajj. This perhaps justifies their need for a period of time to lose themselves and their families in enjoyment,” Kurdi said.
Faisal Marghalani, supervisor of the General Administration for Public Libraries at the Ministry of Culture and Information, told Arab News that families in the Hijaz practice a number of old customs in the days before Ramadan starts. “The families there enjoy themselves at parties or other lively gatherings, with food,” Marghalani said.
Wafa Al-Tayeb, a retired lecturer at Taibah University, said that recently she attended a Sha’abanah celebration organized by a businesswoman in Madinah. “The event was held indoors where the woman reintroduced Sha’abanah in such a modern, creative way,” she said.
Dalal Al-Angari, a Riyadh-based educational expert, said that while she has heard of nothing like that in the central region of the country, a pre-Ramadan celebration is held in the Eastern Province that the locals call Al-Quraish. “This is similar to the Sha’abanah of the Hijazi people, I guess,” she said.
Islamic scholars have been divided over the permissibility of Sha’banah in Islam. Some scholars believe that Ramadan should not be preceded by such activities. However, Sheikh Dr. Khaled Al-Muslih, professor of Islamic jurisprudence at Qassim University, has said in one of his fatwa programs on the Daleel satellite TV channel that practicing Sha’abanah is permissible as long as no wrongdoing is committed.
“Sha’abanah is practiced inside and outside Saudi Arabia, where families gather for a night or even more. It has become a custom. Customs are allowed in Islam unless it is associated with worship,” Al-Maslih said.