Though the central tenets remain the same, we look at how Ramadan has changed through the ages
As the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, Ramadan has always meant days of fasting and abstinence giving way to evenings of prayer and celebrations.
It’s a time for spiritual thought, self-reflection, discipline and devotion and, like many other religious festivals around the world, although the building blocks of Ramadan remain unaltered, the practice has changed over the years.
With the advent of new technology in an increasingly globalised world coupled with a rise in commercialisation, we look at how Ramadan traditions have changed through the ages.
I see the moon
With today’s technology, do we really need the UAE’s moon-sighting committee?
According to cultural expert Ameena Al Hammadi, yes: “The moon sighting committee is very important because the Islamic calendar is a lunar one so it depends on the sighting of the moon and the shape of the moon to know when the month starts and ends.”
Fasting coincides with the cycle of the moon and both the beginning and end of the holy month depend on the real-time sighting of the moon.”
Time to eat
Many decades ago, people would know when it was time to break fast by using the shadow of a stick stuck into the ground.
Ameena explains that in many parts of the Arab world: “Suhoor drummers would roam the neighbourhood, beating a drum to let everyone know that it was time to fast”.
Today, even if you’re nowhere near a mosque to hear the azan signalling that the fast is over, anyone with a smartphone can use GPS and satellites to calculate the exact times of dawn and sunset, and know when to fast and when to pray.
It’s show time
Across the globe, Muslims come together to celebrate Eid as the month-long fasting of Ramadan comes to an end.
“The first day of Eid starts with an early morning prayer called the Khutbah Al Eid. Afterwards, people get together and exchange gifts or give money to the children,”details Ameena.
Families and friends gather to feast and fireworks light up the sky. Traditionally, people would pick out Eid greeting cards to send to relatives but today’s SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook and emails have made the process of spreading Eid joy much simpler.
Loudly does it
Today, the iftar cannon is fired to signify the end of the fast and has come to be recognised as a form of entertainment, with people excited to hear the ‘boom’.
There are many legends about the origins of the iftar cannon with some stories attributing it to the era of the Mamelukes and others to the rule of the Ottomans shortly after, but both agree that it was first used as a way to signal the end of fasting.
Family and friends
The Ramadan tents we know so well today are a new tradition; previously people broke their fast more simply, usually at home. Today, almost every hotel in the city hosts an iftar celebration, many of them hosted in lavish tents.
That said, breaking the fast surrounded by family and friends, whether at home or at a hotel, remains central to the season and, for Ameena: “It’s still the best time to get closer to those you love most.”