Fulani and Gambian Muslim talks about her culture

By Liv Messum

A Fulani and Gambian Muslim student living in Leicester is looking forward to a favourite part of her traditional Ramadan customs – a ‘trick-or-treat’ style tradition for children.

Mariam Jallow honours her culture by praying regularly and participating in a variety of Islamic events, including honouring the Ramadan month of fasting, which began on Friday(APR1).

Mariam during Eid-Mubarak

Mariam, 22, said: “Islam is a really big religion, and as such its nuances differ by culture and country.

“I’m a Fulani and Gambian Muslim, so we might have different customs than Muslims in the Middle East or in Southeast Asia.

“For example, no-one in my family wears a headscarf or hijab, as it really isn’t Gambian custom to do so, even if 95 per cent of the population is Muslim. 

“We do have headdresses we wear normally but those are part of the cultural, not religious identity.”

During prayers, Mariam, and the women in her family, wear abayas (full-length outer garments), or long wrap skirts with a headscarf. 

As part of her religion, prayer is a very important way to give thanks to their god Allah.

Mariam said: “We’re meant to pray five times a day, but I grew up just doing the prayer (salah) at sunset, and Maghrib (another prayer) with my family every day.”

There are also many Islamic holidays that Mariam and her family enjoy.

She said: “Our major holidays are Eid al-Fitr where we celebrate the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan. We spend the entire month fasting from all food and water from sunrise to sunset. 

“The other holiday is Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the Prophet Abraham.”

Both holidays involve going to the mosque. After that, the cultural practices differ. 

Mariam said: “I know as Gambians we have huge cookouts with our families and communities, and we often stop by family members’ houses to pay well wishes.”

She has been participating in these holidays and events her whole life.

“We also have this thing called “salibo” after Eid al-Fitr, where kids go around the community and basically trick or treat for money,” she said.

In salibo, children go from door to door or around family members and hold their hands out while saying “salibo salibo”, to get money from their elders.

“That was always my favourite part,” she laughed.

Mariam described the celebration as huge and lots of fun, with lots of amazing food, cooked by her and her family.

It is also really important in Muslim culture to give something towards to the poor or less fortunate. 

She said: “I think officially it’s 2.5 per cent of your savings as a Muslim that’s meant to go toward charity (called Zakat), but you’re encouraged to give in other forms if you can’t give away money.

“I think that’s why I’ve always liked Ramadan so much, because it’s a time of reflection and it’s meant to have you empathise with those who aren’t as lucky as you.”