From stringing up lanterns to playing football on fire,
Ramadan is celebrated in different ways across the globe
The holy month unites Muslims from all walks of life around the world. The season is a chance for worshippers to celebrate their faith by fasting from dawn to dusk and abstaining from vices and worldly pleasures.
The belief is that fasting and abstinence can help rekindle one’s relationship with God, while instilling the values of sacrifice, simplicity and generosity both in a physical and spiritual sense.
But while the values of fasting and sacrifice are shared among all Muslims, the way by which the season is celebrated can be different from one country to another, making the occasion all the more colourful and unique.
We take a look at how some communities observe Ramadan in their own special way.
THE MIDDLE EAST
Every 14th night of the holy month, children clad in festival robes and bags do the rounds in their neighbourhood, singing songs and knocking on doors in exchange for sweets. Garangao, as it’s typically called, is a common sight in communities in Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia have kept the tradition of firing a canon – positioned in select locations – to signal the breaking of the fast each day. Though it’s fair to say that the ritual is more symbolic in nature than an actual call for mealtime, it’s still a healthy reminder of past customs during the season.
In Iraq, men traditionally play the folk game al siniya – meaning ‘tray’ in Arabic – to cap off iftar with friends and family. The mechanics of the game is simple: Players need to find the hidden dice placed under one of the overturned copper cups placed on a tray to win the round.
The practice of pre-dawn drumming to announce suhoor was once a common tradition in several Muslim communities. Today, this custom has slowly vanished in most parts of the world. However, in some places like Turkey, worshippers continue to rely on the mesaharaty, or pre-dawn caller, to rouse them from slumber for a pre-fast meal.
The lantern is one of the distinct symbols of Ramadan. Legend has it that Caliph Moezz Eddin Allah arrived in Cairo in 969 and was welcomed with a throng of lanterns. Since then, Egypt has held on to the tradition and continues to adorn the streets with a multitude of bright and colourful lanterns to mark the holy month.
In Morocco, revellers begin preparations for Ramadan two or three weeks in advance by painting and cleaning their houses and kitchen utensils. It is also common for friends and families to gather for meals ahead of the holy month in anticipation for the festive iftar and Eid celebrations in the coming weeks.
Night markets are common sights in Algeria throughout the holy month. People stay up all night socialising and attending religious festivities and activities stretching until suhoor.
Worshippers in the Maldives observe iftar by preparing traditional dishes like fish cake and fish balls. The meal is concluded with Ramadan-related poetry delivered by a guest poet, entertaining guests with words full of spiritual significance.
Muslims in Pakistan often celebrate iftar by gathering a large group of friends and families. Pakistanis are fond of preparing big dishes that include fried snack favourites such as pakoras, chaat and samosas. For suhoor, some devotees open their meal by consuming a pinch of salt before eating dates and other staples.
Large gatherings at iftar are also common in India where dishes such as kebab, biryani and shorbas may be served. There are also public fairs in the evening for children and adults to unwind after enjoying a hearty iftar.
Indonesian worshippers in the regions of Yogyakarta, Papua, Bogor and Tasikmalaya take a break from fasting by playing with fire, literally. Armed with flaming kerosene-soaked coconut shells, the players bravely take turns kicking it to score goals. The game, dubbed sepak bola api in local dialect, is pretty much played like football – but with flames.