Ramadan: Interesting Facts, Traditions and Celebrations Around the World
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The Muslim holy month of Ramadan will start on Tuesday, April 13, and most of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims will observe it. This means there's a good chance you might encounter someone — a friend, a co-worker, the barista making your latte at Starbucks, your child's teacher — who will be celebrating, fasting, and doing all sorts of other activities that are unique to the holy month.
What is Ramadan actually about?
Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year for Muslims — the Prophet Mohammed reportedly said, "When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of hell are closed and the devils are chained."
Muslims believe it was during this month that God revealed the first verses of the Quran, Islam's sacred text, to Mohammed, on a night known as "The Night of Power" (or Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic), VOX cites.
During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from dawn to sunset. It is meant to be a time of spiritual discipline — of deep contemplation of one's relationship with God, extra prayer, increased charity and generosity, and intense study of the Quran.
But if that makes it sound super serious and boring, it's really not. It's a time of celebration and joy, to be spent with loved ones. At the end of Ramadan there’s a big three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr, or the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast. It's kind of like the Muslim version of Christmas, in the sense that it's a religious holiday where everyone comes together for big meals with family and friends, exchanges presents, and generally has a lovely time.
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How is Ramadan celebrated around the world?
From Berlin to Baghdad, Muslims around the world began celebrating the holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday with daytime fasting designed to cleanse the soul.
Every year, Muslims prepare themselves and their homes to focus on the sanctities of the month, as it commemorates the revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Mohammed — significant peace comes with that. Homes are calmer, prayers are heard across cities, iftar meals to break the fast are prepared early, youths volunteer and spread joy to the less fortunate, and family gatherings abound — these are just some of the highlights of the month.
There is unity and closeness; humble, shared meals; the strengthening of bonds; and spiritual reflection.
Muslims and Christians perform acts of charity by providing large banquets in front of mosques.
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With plenty of food to go around, it does not matter if you are poor or rich — the shared experience of generosity brings people together.
Across Saudi Arabia, Ramadan rituals are sacred in many households. As the sun starts to set, homes are filled with the smell of cardamom and Arabic coffee, which is prepared for iftar.
There is also a heady mix of fried dough, prepping for samboosa, and the sweet smell of karkadeh, a hibiscus tea. Across the Kingdom, recitals of the Qur’an can be heard as family members start trickling into their elders’ homes with dishes of Arabic sweets such as lugaymat and atayef (thin pancakes stuffed with cream or crushed fried almonds with syrup).
Saudis break their fast with a few dates and milk or a yogurt drink sometimes mixed with mint leaves.
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Here is some Ramadan traditions around the world:
United Arab Emirates
Let's start with the home of Musafir.com: UAE. About two weeks before Ramadan, Emiratis celebrate Haq Laila - a form of trick-or-treating - wherein children go around the neighbourhood collecting sweets and nuts in tote bags called Kharyta, Arab News cites.
During Ramadan, a town crier - known as nafar - roams the neighbourhoods of Morocco in the traditional attire of a gondola, slippers and a hat. Elected by the townspeople, the nafar walks down streets blowing a horn to wake people up for suhoor.
Like the UAE, in Kuwait, a doorbell ringing two weeks into the holy month summons the beginning of gerga’aan, a three-day celebration that sees children knocking on the doors of neighbours’ homes and singing in exchange for sweets and chocolate.
In Egypt, Muslims welcome Ramadan with colourful fanous – intricate lanterns that symbolise unity and joy throughout the holy month. Although the tradition has more to do with culture than religion, it has come to be strongly associated with the holy month of Ramadan, taking on a spiritual significance.
In Java, Indonesia, Muslims partake in a purifying ritual - observed before Ramadan - called Padusan wherein they plunge themselves into springs. The bathing ritual is said to purify the body and soul before embarking on fasting. Legend has it that previously it was local elders and religious leaders who picked and assign sacred springs for Padusan. Today, many just go to nearby lakes and swimming pools.
In the archipelago known as the Maldives, Ramadan is locally called Roadha Mas. Here, the post-iftar celebration stands out. After iftar, poets are asked to recite Raivaru; Ramadan related poetry.
For centuries, the members of the Roma Muslim community, which dates back to the Ottoman empire, have been announcing the start and end of fasting with traditional songs. Every day for the month of Ramadan, these people will march up and down the streets playing a lodra, a homemade double-ended cylinder drum covered in sheep or goat skin. Muslim families will often invite them inside their homes to play traditional ballads to celebrate the start of iftar.
In Lebanon, cannons are fired daily during the month of Ramadan to signal the end of the day’s fast. This tradition, known as Midfa Al Iftar, is said to have begun in Egypt over 200 years ago when the country was governed by Ottoman ruler Khosh Qadam. Although we've singled out Lebanon, this tradition is observed by many countries across the Middle East.
Similar to Morocco's nafar tradition, in Turkey, more than 2000 drummers don conventional Ottoman costumes and go around the streets of Turkey with their davul with the intention of waking up people in time for suhoor.
In line with Morocco and Turkey, during Ramadan, the seheriwalas of Delhi, India, walk the streets of the city in the wee hours of the morning, chanting out the name of Allah and the Prophet, to serve as a wake-up call to Muslims for suhoor. The centuries-old practice is still carried out in parts of Old Delhi, particularly in those neighbourhoods with a higher Muslim population.
15 Interesting Facts about Ramadan:
1. It is believed that Muhammad received the first revelation during Ramadan.
2. The beginning of Ramadan can move as many as 11 or 12 days each year.
3. During Ramadan, Muslim-majority countries often shorten work days to allow for additional prayer time each day.
4. In Muslim countries the economy is impacted because of the fasting. It usually results in a month of inflation; prices go up.
5. If a non-Muslim meets a Muslim during the month of Ramadan, the appropriate greeting for good wishes is "Ramadan Mubarak" which means "Have a blessed Ramadan."
6. During Ramadan Muslims are obligated to give to charity through Sadaqa (voluntary giving), or Zakat (mandatory giving).
7. Children are not obligated to fast during Ramadan, not until they have reached puberty, but some practice in order to prepare for adult participation.
8. The Five Pillars of Islam include Sawm: Fasting during Ramadan, Hajj: a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their life, Zakat: giving to the poor, Salat: five-time daily prayer, facing Mecca, including absolution prior to prayer, Shalada: declaration of belief in one true God.
9. The meal before the beginning of the fast is called suhoor, and the meal after sunset is called iftar.
10. The first prayer of the day is called Fajr.
11. Despite the exemptions to fasting during Ramadan such as illness, breastfeeding, or medical conditions, many Muslims will persist with fasting because of their spiritual needs. If one is not able to fast, but is able to in the future once their condition changes, they must still complete the fast.
12. Muslims often break the daily fast with three dates and then a prayer called the Maghrib prayer. A meal follows which is often a buffet-style large meal.
13. During Ramadan Muslims are encouraged to read the Quran.
14. In some countries it is a crime to ignore Ramadan and break the fast.
15. At the end of Ramadan there is a large festival called Eid ul Fitr to celebrate the end of the fast. Eid ul Fitr is celebrated by wearing one's best clothes, giving gifts, having a large meal, and spending time with one's family. Muslims also use this time to ask for forgiveness for sins and to praise Allah (God).
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