efe-epaSana'a

Inside the Great Mosque enclosure in Sana'a (Yemen), Ali al Bitar has spent the past 30 years applying traditional red and black kohl powder on the eyelid edges of devout Yemenite Muslim men attending Mosque prayers during the sacred month of Ramadan in what is considered a traditional rite seeking purification of the body.

Surrounded by men, he deftly applies his Kohl golden eye-liner below his devout customer's eyelids for a handful of Yemeni ryals. Kohl is a traditional Muslim cosmetic product, manufactured with a mixture of red antimony, ground precious stones, and herbs.

Tribesmen seeking this traditional ritual "hail from all regions" of Yemen, Al Bitar explains to EFE from his improvised workplace.

He says these men will not leave the mosque without passing through his hands " and therefore return to their homes with the sign showing they have attended the Grand Mosque prayers".

Al Bitar points out that Yemenites believe using the Grand Mosque's cosmetic service, is "more special" as it is considered "a blessing".

The burning sensation of the kohl cosmetic applied on eyelids produces an immediate smarting and reddening of the eyes with tears streaming down the cheeks.

"Kohl" is extracted from a reddish-black stone composed of various metals, including lead, mined in mountainous regions such as Morocco, the Levant (Lebanon and Syria) and Isfahan (Iran).

Muslim tradition states the prophet Mohammed encouraged his followers to apply kohl which, according to popular belief, is good for the eyesight.

Right beside Al Bitar sits Ismail al Bawab, 63, who has also spent the past 25 years in the same place applying "Kohl" to devotees' eyelids.

"Some believe Ramadan would have no meaning without red and black kohl, " he tells EFE.

According to Al Bawab, the black kohl is more for "beauty" while red Kohl has "therapeutic uses".

Yemen is a nation currently engaged in a bloody civil war among its Houthi Shia and government-supporting Sunni population which, according to United Nations sources, suffered the world's worst famine in 2017.

EFE also spoke with Ahmed Husein, 40, an engineer hoping red Kohl would alleviate the pain in his eyes.

He explains that he prefers trying the natural remedy to see if it solves his ailment, "otherwise I will visit the doctor".

by Jaled Abdala