Explore the delightful customs observed by over 1.5 billion Muslims during the holiest month of the Islamic Calendar.
Ramadan (also known as Ramazan, Ramzan, Ramadhan, or Ramathan) is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief. This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The month lasts 29–30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon, according to numerous biographical accounts compiled in the hadiths. Ramadan is considered to be a time for gratitude, helping the less fortunate and to reconnect with Allah.
With Islam being such a widespread and ancient religion, it has blended itself with many of the local aspects from region to region. This has given birth to several traditions celebrating Ramadan along with the unique flavours of each country.
1. Spreading the joy.
As the period of Ramadan begins, people greet each other by saying ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ on the first day.
2. Complete focus on God.
The Ramadan days begin and end with prayers. Muslims also make it a point to visit the mosque during the Ramadan month. Muslims give up water, food, intoxicating substances or sexual activities during the daylight hours only to have food twice a day; when the sun rises and when the sun sets. The meal before sunrise is called Suhoor and the meal after sunset is called Iftar.
3. Trying to be good human beings.
People completely refrain from vices such as greed, lust, anger, false promises or gossip. For those who are well to do, there is a tradition is to donate 2.5% of their total assets to the destitutes. This is known as ‘Zakhat’.
4. Commemorating the day the Quran was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad.
On Laylat-al-Qadr, the holiest night of the year, people offer prayers as it is believed blessings acquired on this day are a thousand times powerful than the rest of the year.
5. The pretty lanterns of Egypt.
The ‘Fanous’ or lanterns of Ramadan are one of the most captivating sights in Egypt. According to legend, the Egyptians welcomed the arrival of Caliph Moezz Eddin Allah to Cairo in the year 969 by lighting hundreds of lanterns. The tradition has continued and become a part of the Ramadan celebration.
6. Marking the beginning and end of the day.
In various cities in the Arab world, the sunrise and sunset are signalled by the firing of a cannon. This was traditionally done so even people far away could hear the sound and proceed with their day accordingly but is now mainly symbolic.
7. A treat for the young ones.
The 14th day of Ramadan, is celebrated as Garangao in some parts of the Gulf. This is a fun tradition for children and a way to reward their efforts in fasting half way through the holy month. The name is derived from “Gara”, a Khaliji word for the sound of things knocking together. During Garangao, after the sunset prayer, children dress up in their traditional clothes, carry a decorated material bag, and walk around their neighborhoods singing the Garangao song, hitting stones together to create a rhythm. In the past they were given dates, rice and wheat, the ingredients used for a traditional Qatari dish called Harees, but nowadays children usually receive nuts and sweets.
8. Washing away past sins.
In parts of Indonesia, Muslims immerse themselves in water believed to be holy or bathe in holy wells or springs to cleanse themselves spiritually and physically prior to the holy month. This ritual is known as ‘Padusan’. There is also a tradition of distributing food amongst elderly family members.
9. The Ramadan drummer.
Known as the Mesaharaty, their job is to walk every morning through the streets while playing a drum and singing holy songs to wake people up for the final meal before the fast begins. This tradition continues to this day in the Gulf countries.
10. The breaking of the fast.
While every country has its share of delicacies prepared for the Iftar, people generally break their fast by consuming either dates or water first. Preparation for the Iftar begins a couple of hours before sunset with some people preparing extra food to share with the needy or even inviting them to dine side by side. Here are some of the most popular dishes consumed during Ramadan in different parts of the world :
Biryani : Biryani is a mixed rice dish from the Indian subcontinent. It is popular throughout the subcontinent and among the diaspora from the region. It is made with spices, rice, lentils, meat and vegetables.
Haleem : A stew popular in the Middle East, Central Asia, Pakistan, and India. Although the dish varies from region to region, it always includes wheat, barley, lentils and meat. Popular variations include Keşkek in Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and northern Iraq; Harissa in the Arab world and Armenia; Khichra in Pakistan and India; and Hyderabadi Haleem in Telangana, India.
Pastirma : A highly seasoned, air-dried cured beef of Anatolian origin and is now a part of the cuisines of the former Ottoman countries such as Turkey.
Kofta : A type of meatball or meatloaf dish found in South Asian, Middle Eastern, Balkan, and Central Asian cuisine. In the simplest form, koftas consist of balls of minced or ground meat (usually beef, chicken, lamb, or pork) mixed with spices and/or onions.
Qatayef : A special Arabic dessert, commonly served during Ramadan. Sometimes called “arabic pancakes”, it is a type of dumpling filled with sweet cheese and nuts which is then fried.