Al-Wida: A Waning Rohingya Tradition
Ro Mehrooz Rohingya Today
A old Rohingya man waking up observants for pre-dawn meal in the Cox's Bazar refugee camp. Photo by Sahat Zia Hero.

With the departure of the Hijri month — Sha'ban, arrives Ramadan with blessings and joy among the believers of Islamic faith around the world. The observant Muslims fast from dawn to dusk throughout the whole month. Although the process is almost similar for most of the Muslims around the world, there are some unique and varying touches and traditions from respective cultures in different parts of the world.

One of them is waking observants for pre-dawn meals. Some volunteers bang drums and instruments in Middle Eastern countries and sing in some parts. A similar tradition called — Al-Wida is also practiced across Rohingya villages in Arakan. The history about the tradition is not however popular among the people but the word Al-Wida is derived from an Arabic word, Al-Wida’ meaning farewell — farewell to the sleep. A group of people, often youths, participates in a procession across neighbourhoods every midnight and the leader sings songs related to Ramadan as well as other Islamic songs, and the rest of the group repeat or sometimes sings only the chorus to wake up the observant Muslims for the pre-dawn meal. This activity creates a joyful atmosphere and sometimes, even the children wakes up to see what is occurring. At the end of Ramadan, the singers receive gifts from households in the neighbourhoods and donate them in local mosques or sometimes, keep for them. In some parts of Arakan, Al-Wida competitions are held at the month’s ending. Several singers group participate in the competitions and prize-giving ceremonies are held to award the top performing groups. 

The tradition was alive among many Rohingya villages in Arakan until a communal violence erupted in 2012 in Northern Rakhine state. After the riot, mosques and religious schools were locked up, religious practices were restricted for Rohingyas, and a curfew was imposed for the nighttime. These stopped Al-Wida singers coming out in the Ramadan months afterwards. However, after a few years, things were getting back to normal in some villages. Soon, a genocidal campaign was carried out by the Myanmar military and some local Rakhine extremists on 25th August 2017 that killed several thousand Rohingya and drove nearly one million Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh. Many Al-Wida singers fled during the event and are now living as displaced Myanmar nationals in Cox’s Bazar camp. These singers cannot keep the tradition alive in the camp due to unsafe conditions in the camp, thus resulting in the waning of the Al-Wida tradition, much like so many other traditions simply dying in the camps.

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