Muslims commemorate the holy month through cultural celebrations that are unique to their region. Here, ADW shares some of the most vibrant traditions from across the globe.
While fasting is a prevalent part of the holy month, Ramadan is about so much more. It’s a time of spiritual reflection, improvement, worship and the coming together of families. Although Muslims around the world are united under the same practices, some countries, cultures and even families commemorate this time through different customs. From Egypt to India and here in the UAE, we highlight the differences and similarities of Ramadan customs around the world.
Haq Al Laila is an annual celebration preceding Ramadan, which falls in the middle of the month of Shaban, when children go door-to-door wearing traditional dress to collect sweets and nuts while singing ‘Atona Allah ya’atikom’ (‘give to us and God will give to you’). This is traditionally done in neighbourhoods throughout the local community but in the UAE, businesses and government entities host events to help children understand the importance of sharing and generosity to builder strong communities.
Similarly in Kuwait, Gerga’aan is a doorbell ringing that takes place two weeks into the holy month. Children are adorned in their finest traditional clothes and serenade neighbours after Maghreb prayers. Two traditional songs are sang during Gerga’aan – one for girls and another for boys – and both can be personalised to include the names of the children residing in the home being visited.
Lanterns, also known as fanous, are symbolic during Ramadan. It’s commonplace to find them placed in homes, venues and even pictured on greetings. The traditional use of fanous as decorations during Ramadan is believed to have originated in Egypt during the Fatimid Caliphate, where the Caliph Al-Muizz Lideenillah was greeted by the Egyptian people holding lanterns to celebrate his arrival to Cairo during Ramadan.
The use of fanous has now spread to other Muslim countries and continues to have a pivotal role in Cairo’s industry. Today, EIRab is the hub of the fanous industry where you can find some of the biggest fanous as well as participate in workshops that have been passed down from one generation to another.
Padusan is a communal bathing ritual followed by the Javanese people of Indonesia. It’s intended to purify the body and soul before the start of Ramadan. People come together in natural bodies of water such as rivers and springs with baskets of food on their heads. After the bath, they pray and eat together.
In Morocco, nafar and tebbal still help people keep pace with Ramadan prayer and meal times. Nafar and tebbal are horn players and drummers who walk the streets playing their instruments to wake people for suhoor, the pre-dawn meal consumed before fasting starts for the day. They wear slippers and a traditional robe called the gandora. People who have waken from nafar and tebbal calls usually tip the players to show their gratitude.
India has its own wake-up call during Ramadan. Seheriwalas represent the old Mughal culture of Delhi by walking the streets during early morning hours chanting the name Allah and the Prophet to wake Muslims for suhoor. They start their rounds as early as 2.30am and carry sticks and canes to tap on the doors and walls of houses. This tradition isn’t as widely practised today but Seheriwalas are still found in areas that are predominantly Muslim.
A Family Affair
The expat community in the UAE makes up 80 percent of the population and with so many people hailing from different nations, many of the customs observed around the world converge right here in the place we call home. ADW speaks to residents to find out how they prepare for Ramadan, what special traditions they have and how experiencing Ramadan in the UAE differs from their home countries.
“Ramadan is a time of year that Muslims will shift their daily focus more towards Allah and the holy book the Quran. We want our days to be full of worship to Allah, prayer, reading Quran, and dua’a. This is our opportunity to reconnect and get closer to our God, inshaallah, and gain many rewards.
“It isn’t practical to assume we can achieve this overnight as soon as Ramadan begins if we haven’t been slowly working on increasing our acts of worship before Ramadan. Sha’aban (the eighth month in the Islamic calendar) is the perfect time to start improving our faith and closeness to Allah in order to reap as many benefits for the full duration of Ramadan.
“Family togetherness during Ramadan is especially important for parents of young children. A child’s early experiences of Ramadan inform the feeling and memories they associate with this blessed month throughout their lives.
“Creating family traditions to get children excited about and engaged with Islam during this month will help them grasp hold of blessings that we, as adults, cherish about Ramadan.
“Observing the holy month in the UAE is not that different from my home country, as we are living in an Arabic, Muslim country and sharing the same religion and almost the same traditions. However, living far from our families and grandparents, especially during the holy month, makes us miss them more as it is the month of the reunion, gathering for iftar and sharing the love, faith and spirit of Ramadan.”
“My perspective on Ramadan has changed over the years. In the past, and especially when I lived in the US, I viewed Ramadan as an integral part of my culture and identity. It was a unique social tradition that I participated in with family, community members and religious social networks.
“Today, I view Ramadan in a different light. To me, Ramadan is a time for deep spiritual thought and reflection, an opportunity to volunteer one’s time, donate more generously to charity and pray at the Grand Mosque in the middle of the night. While our family and friends continue to support one another during this holy month, most activities involve spiritual engagement.”
“Living here for 13 years, we are very aware of the holy month and now we take the opportunity to share this awareness with our children so they too understand what Ramadan is about. We prepare by speaking of the traditions we have observed in the UAE with our kids, explaining how we can give thanks for the simple luxury of food and water ever day, and by planning quality time with each other. Due to a slower pace at school and work we feel lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy optimal time together.
“It’s a great month be at home and with family more, to journal, make space for self-care practices, reflect on the days, read more, breathe deeper and be more conscious of how we nourish the body and mind daily.”
“There are many ways in which we prepare for Ramadan, whether it is to decorate the house with lights and bunting to welcome the blessed month, or mentally prepare ourselves to be more spiritually present in the days ahead. We also like to prepare food in advance so more time is spent praying as opposed to cooking.
“Being a mother of two, making new traditions for our family is important. This year I have made a Ramadan Countdown Calendar, where each day my sons will be asked to do a good deed as we count down the days to Eid. I will also be giving a Ramadan basket on the eve of the first day of Ramadan to my older son with Islamic children’s books, his own prayer mat, a Ramadan journal that we can document our activities in and other treats.
“One other tradition we observe as a family is to go to the Masjid on the 27th night of Ramadan to offer the Taraweeh nighttime prayers together. I am looking forward to carrying on these traditions each and every Ramadan inshaallah.”