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Glimpses of Ramadan: Traditions, Tastes and Unity

Glimpses of Ramadan: Traditions, Tastes and Unity

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Explore the rich traditions and culinary delights of Ramadan, from the resounding boom of the iftar cannon to the communal banquets and delectable dishes that grace tables during this sacred month. Join the journey of unity, empathy, and gastronomic exploration through vibrant streets, illuminated by lanterns, and adorned with festive décor.

Reaching Zakaria Street the other day, I realized it is the month of Ramadan, when the crescent moon graces the night sky, and Muslims around the world prepare to welcome the holiest month of their calendar. Despite having indulged in a hearty lunch earlier, the tantalizing aroma of the festive fare beckoned me, tugging at the strings of my heart to indulge once more, even as my rational mind cautioned otherwise. Eventually, succumbing to the allure, I found myself seated at Sufia, savoring a plate of Beef Haleem. Moving from one culinary delight to another, I sampled Adam’s Suta Kabab, Dilshad’s Dahi and Malai kebabs, Taskeen’s Mahi Akbari kebab, and Delhi 6’s Afghani Chicken. With each bite, I found myself drawn deeper into the gastronomic journey, until even my heart cried out for respite, signaling the end of my culinary exploration with a refreshing glass of Mahabbat ka Sharbat.

However, Ramadan is far beyond mere Roja and Iftari, this sacred time is imbued with rich traditions that reflect the spirit of unity and empathy intrinsic to Islamic culture. I came across an article by Ahmed Hammad published by National Geographic which discussed some unique Ramadan traditions. So as we prepare to celebrate Eid on the 10th, I share these interesting details with my readers.

The Iftar Cannon

The resounding boom of the iftar cannon signals both the conclusion of the day’s fast and the onset of Ramadan. These cannons, relics of antiquity, are discharged by police officers to commemorate iftar, the breaking of the fast, at sunset.

Accounts regarding the origins of this Ramadan tradition vary, but all trace back to Cairo. According to one narrative, a sultan from the 15th-century Mamluk dynasty tested a cannon given to him, firing it at sunset during Ramadan. The inhabitants of Cairo interpreted this as a deliberate signal for iftar.

Observing the enthusiastic response from the public, the sultan decided to institute a daily firing of the cannon at sunset to mark iftar. Initially, live ammunition was employed, a practice that persisted until 1859 when blanks became the preferred option for the densely populated city.

The tradition gradually spread, first to the Levant and then to Baghdad by the late 19th century, eventually reaching the Gulf region and North African countries.

Wake-up call

Before the advent of alarm clocks, the duty of rousing the masses fell upon the masaharati, a figure who persists in tradition to this day. Throughout Ramadan, it is the masaharati’s responsibility to traverse the streets, awakening Muslims for suhoor—the pre-dawn meal before fasting—by playing a flute or drumming.

The inaugural masaharati was Utbah bin Ishaq, a 7th-century governor of Egypt. As he traversed the nocturnal streets of Cairo, he would herald, “Servants of Allah, partake in suhoor, for therein lies blessings.”

Over time, this vocation proliferated across the Islamic world, assuming various monikers and musical styles. In Morocco, the naffar heralds the morning with a trumpet blast. Yemen’s masaharati, on the other hand, goes door to door within the neighborhood. In the Levant, the masaharati was so revered that each locality boasted its own, wandering the streets with a drum, proclaiming, “Awake, O sleeper, for there is no God but Allah, the Eternal.”

Let there be Light

For centuries, lanterns have symbolized the arrival of Ramadan, illuminating the path of this sacred month. Alongside, the crescent moon and star, emblematic of Islam, grace decorations with their presence.

As the rhythm of daily life shifts drastically, with Muslims refraining from food and drink from dawn till dusk, the nights of Ramadan come alive with vibrant social gatherings and entertainment. Marketplaces, cafes, and streets become hubs of activity, aglow with festive lights and adorned with decorations, fostering a spirit of celebration throughout the month.

Across different regions, each country boasts its own unique Ramadan decor style. Cairo’s streets dazzle with colorful fabrics, lamps, and lanterns, while North Africa favors intricate arabesque designs. In the Gulf countries, shopping centers and lampposts are adorned with colored lights and ornaments featuring eight-pointed stars and crescent moons.

Though Ramadan lacks prescribed colors, shades like green, yellow, purple, and turquoise, symbolizing peace and spirituality, are commonly found adorning decorations.

Food for all…

Communal banquets, a hallmark of Ramadan across most Arab countries, beautifully embody the spirit of solidarity within Islam. The act of fasting fosters a deep sense of compassion and empathy towards those less fortunate.

In Egypt, neighborhoods come together to host charitable banquets where residents collectively contribute food, set up tables, and coordinate the nightly gatherings.

Iftar food

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In Saudi Arabia, opulent banquets grace the courtyards of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. Meanwhile, in the United Arab Emirates, mosques and Ramadan tents feature makeshift tables adorned with a diverse array of dishes. These gatherings, orchestrated by charities and supported by generous benefactors, epitomize the essence of communal sharing and generosity during this holy month.

What’s on the plate? 

During the holy month, tables are adorned with an array of delectable dishes, each deeply tied to tradition. While some dish names may echo across borders, the recipes and ingredients often exhibit regional variations.

Dates hold a central place on every table, their significance rooted in history as the Prophet Mohammed broke his fast with dates and water. This practice has endured for centuries among Muslims. Rich in sugars, potassium, magnesium, and fiber, dates provide an ideal replenishment after a day of fasting.

Ramadan dishes typically take the form of hearty stews, designed to provide sustenance and hydration throughout the day-long fast. These dishes tend to be rich in calories and less reliant on spices, which can exacerbate thirst.

An iftar spread may feature dishes like thareed, an Emirati specialty of bread simmered in broth with lamb and vegetables; molokhia, an Egyptian soup crafted from molokhia greens, often served alongside rice and roasted chicken; and harira, a sumptuous Moroccan soup teeming with meat, tomatoes, vermicelli, chickpeas, and lentils.

Complementing these main courses are Levantine-style side dishes such as moutabal, a creamy eggplant dip, and ful, a flavorful blend of fava beans with a zesty garlic-lemon oil.

To conclude the meal on a sweet note, Ramadan treats abound. Among them are chebakia, Moroccan cookies infused with honey and sesame; luqaimat, golden-fried doughnut balls drizzled with honey or date molasses and sprinkled with sesame; creamy rice pudding; qatayef, pancakes stuffed with cream or nuts, then fried and drenched in honey or syrup; and masoub, a luscious Yemeni banana bread pudding.

Eid Mubarak in Advance.

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