Ramadan traditions around the world

Published 2024-03-28 16:46:48
Lantern, Ramadan, Tea image - Credit: Image by Ahmed Sabry from Pixabay

While the basic tenets of Ramadan are shared globally according to the pillars of Islam, some celebrations differ from culture to culture, each unique to their region passed on from their elders through generations. We will explore some of them in this article.

Ramadan is one of the holiest months in the Islamic calendar and is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It is celebrated by about two billion people, around 25% of the world’s population, by observing fasting, giving to charity and praying.

How is Ramadan practised?

During Ramadan, individuals fast by refraining from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset for the entire month, culminating in the celebration of Eid-el-Fitr at the end of Ramadan.

Ramadan fasting is one of the most observed pillars of Islam, with surveys showing that 70-80% of Muslims worldwide practise it. Fasting is obligatory for both men and women from the onset of puberty. In certain cultures, parents encourage their children to begin fasting for half a day from the age of ten to acclimate them to the practice.

The pre-dawn meal, suhur, marks the beginning of the fasting day, while the evening meal, iftar, concludes it with a full sunset and evening prayer. Planning menus for these meals is a significant aspect of Ramadan, with a focus on light yet nourishing fare. Although culinary traditions vary across countries, the overarching principle remains consistent: incorporate dried fruits, meats, and vegetables in the evening meal.

Suhur offerings often include bean dishes like 'ful Ramadan', brik with egg in North African countries, bolani (Afghan flatbread stuffed with potato), fruit salads, and porridge.

In Indonesia, the padusan ritual

Indonesian Muslims participate in various rituals to prepare for Ramadan, with different regions observing unique traditions. In Central and East Java, a customary purification ritual known as padusan (derived from the Javanese word for 'to bathe') is practised by the local Muslim communities. During padusan, Javanese Muslims immerse themselves in springs, fully submerging their bodies from head to toe.

Padusan exemplifies the harmonious blend of religion and culture in Indonesia. The springs carry profound spiritual significance in Javanese tradition and serve as a fundamental aspect of preparing for the sacred month of Ramadan.

This practice is believed to have originated from the teachings of Wali Songo, a group of influential scholars who were pivotal in spreading Islamic faith across Java. In the past, it was customary for elders and religious leaders to designate specific springs for padusan. However, modern practices often involve visits to nearby lakes and swimming pools or performing purification rituals at home.

Liban: The tradition of firing cannons

In numerous Middle Eastern countries, like Lebanon and Bahrain, the daily firing of cannons signals the end of the day's fast during Ramadan. This tradition is known as midfa al iftar and can be traced back over 200 years to Egypt. Legend has it that during the rule of Ottoman leader Khosh Qadam, a cannon was inadvertently fired at sunset while being tested. The resounding boom echoed across Cairo, leading many to believe it was a new signal for iftar. Grateful for this unintended innovation, civilians thanked Qadam, and his daughter, Haja Fatma, encouraged him to establish it as a tradition.

This practice spread to various Middle Eastern nations, including Lebanon, where Ottoman authorities used cannons to announce iftar throughout the land. Despite facing challenges such as the confiscation of cannons during a 1983 invasion, considered weapons at the time, the tradition was resurrected by the Lebanese Army post-war and is still practised to this day.

Albania: Roms muslims celebrate with music

For generations, the Roma Muslim community, with roots tracing back to the Ottoman Empire, has marked the beginning and end of fasting through traditional songs.

Throughout Ramadan, they take to the streets daily, playing the lodra, a homemade drum with both ends covered in sheep or goat skin.

Fasting Muslim families welcome the singers into their homes to perform traditional songs, adding to the joyous atmosphere of iftar celebrations.

Seheriwalas in India: Guardians of dawn and muslim traditions

In Delhi, the seheriwalas uphold a longstanding Muslim tradition that reflects the city's rich Mughal culture and heritage. During the sacred month of Ramadan, these individuals roam the streets in the early hours of the morning, chanting the names of Allah and the Prophet to rouse Muslims for suhoor. This age-old custom persists in parts of Old Delhi, especially in neighbourhoods densely populated by Muslims.

Commencing their rounds as early as 2:30 am, seheriwalas often carry sticks or canes to tap on doors to signal the time for suhoor. For many seheriwalas, this tradition is a family legacy passed down through generations. Despite their declining numbers, the practice remains prevalent in Old Delhi, preserving an important aspect of the city's cultural heritage.

Egypt: A festival of lights for Isis

Each year, Egyptians eagerly usher in Ramadan with the vibrant presence of fanous - ornate lanterns that epitomize unity and joy throughout the sacred month. Although rooted more in culture than religion, this tradition has become deeply intertwined with Ramadan, acquiring profound spiritual significance.

The tales surrounding its origins vary, but a prevalent narrative traces the origins of fanous to a historic night during the Fatimid dynasty. Legend has it that Egyptians warmly welcomed Caliph Al-Muʿizz li-Dīn Allah upon his arrival in Cairo on the first day of Ramadan. To light his path, military officials instructed locals to carry candles in the darkened streets. Wooden frames shielded the candles from the wind. Over time, these basic wooden structures transformed into intricately patterned lanterns which now adorn the streets casting light throughout the holy month.

Today, the fanous tradition seamlessly merges with other local customs. During Ramadan, children stroll the streets with lanterns, happily singing as people give them sweets and gifts, further enriching the festive atmosphere.

The drums of Suhoor: Guardians of the Ottoman tradition in Turkey

Since the era of the Ottoman Empire, the tradition of waking up to the beat of drums for suhoor has persisted during Ramadan. Despite modern times and the advent of alarm clocks, over 2,000 drummers still walk the streets of Turkey, fostering community unity during the sacred month.

Clad in traditional Ottoman attire, complete with a fez and vest embellished with classic motifs, these drummers carry their davul (Turkish double-headed drum) as they make their rounds. Relying on the generosity of locals, they receive tips (bahşiş) or even invitations to join in suhoor meals. This act of giving is typically performed twice during Ramadan, with many believing it brings them good fortune in return for their kindness.

In a bid to preserve this age-old tradition amidst Turkey's rapid modernization, authorities have introduced a membership card system for drummers. This initiative aims to instil pride in the drummers and inspire a new generation to uphold this cherished custom

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Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert and content writer for EasyExpat.com

For other discussions, advice, question, point of view, get together, etc...: please use the forum.

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