Soon, Muslims around the world Muslims will be celebrating Ramadan. This year, 20202, it falls from sundown April 23rd until the evening of May 23rd. Many people who don’t celebrate it recognize this month-long holiday as a month of fasting. But Ramadan is so much more than that, it is a sacred month to Muslims with a long and rich history of celebrations, many unique to their regions.
Ramadan marks the month that the Prophet Muhammad discovered the Q’uran. To honor this discovery, yes people fast, but they also observe acts of charity, prayer, unique customs, and more to display their most pious and pure selves. It is a month for spirituality, enlightenment, and achieving self-improvement even in baby steps.
Like any holiday celebrated internationally, there are no two Ramadan celebrations that are exactly alike. Even neighbors may have slightly different ways to observe. So first let us start with the basics of Ramadan that you will find some form of no matter where you are.
Who Fasts During Ramadan?
Despite popular misconception, not everyone who observes Ramadan participates in the fast. It’s made very clear that fasting should only be strictly observed by those who are physically able. This means that children, pregnant women, and those with other physical restrictions may choose to eat normally. Often they will find some middle ground and perhaps observe a more restrictive diet, or try to give up one of their favorite treats while still meeting their body’s needs.
What is Iftar?
Iftar is observed in some form around the world during Ramadan. It is simply the name for the evening meal when Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast after sundown. They will break their fast with an evening prayer, after which the meal begins. Often the meal is started with 3 dates, and then a spread of traditional Ramadan treats are brought out to share. Of course how elaborate everything is really does vary from family to family.
What is Suhur?
Suhur is the morning equivalent of Iftar, and is eaten before the sun rises. After the meal is finished families observe a morning prayer, called the fajr prayer.
Charity, Prayer, and A Better Self
While the exact details of how to do this vary from person to person, Ramadan is a time to give back and be better. For many, this involves giving back to the community, donating to charity, spending time and effort helping the less fortunate, or sharing gifts for Ramadan. People attend prayer more. Some even go so far as making a list of goals to try and make better habits to take the feeling and motivation of Ramadan and try and carry it with them the rest of the year.
So what then changes from country to country? How is Ramadan observed around the world? What makes Ramadan Unique?
For those celebrating Ramadan in Turkey, be ready to wake to the sound of drums. That’s right, drums. Since the Ottoman Empire those celebrating Ramadan have woken up to the sounds of drums to signal the time for their morning meal. This tradition is alive and well today, and drummers who make it to the ranks are even given a membership card for bragging rights.
The drummers dress up in traditional Ottoman costumes, fez included. As the more than 2000 drummers roam the streets they rely on the charity of onlookers to donate to them and keep this tradition alive.
The beauty and majesty of Egypt is known the world over, so it’s only natural they’d be a bit theatrical. People welcome Ramadan with elaborate lanterns, called fanous. These lanterns are terribly intricate and stand as a symbol for unity and joy during this holy month.
There is some debate on how this tradition started, but all agree it’s turned into a thing of beauty and wonder. Children have even taken to carrying their lanterns around the street singing songs and asking for gifts or sweets.
In Iraq, families enjoy fun and games after they break their fast. The game is called mheibes, and is a huge event. The game involves two teams of 40 to 250 people of all ages and generations, trying to hide a ring called the mihbes. The leader works to discreetly pass the ring around a circle and the other team must guess where the ring ends up using body language alone. It’s a real test of reading people, and while it sounds simple, it’s a fun part game that brings communities together.
In Pakistan there is a special reason to be excited about the final iftar of Ramadan. Women everywhere are excited from the transition of Ramadan to Eid-al-Fitr, which is marketed by the new moon that ends Ramadan. After their final meal they will rush to local bazaars to buy bangles, and paint their hands and feet with stunning henna designs.
Thanks to this tradition shopkeepers decorate their stalls and stay open until the morning. Many women set up makeshift henna shops near the bazaars so they can make a bit of extra money and share in the joy. If you have a chance to visit it is truly a sight to behold and an atmosphere that is infectious with joy.
For many in Indonesia, cleansing before Ramadan is very important. All around the country people perform different cleansing rituals the day before Ramadan to prepare themselves for the holy month. In some cities, people observe a very specific tradition called padusan (which means “to bathe” in the Jaanese dialect). For padusan, Muslims will take a dip in springs and soak their whole bodies.
Of course there are more traditions, and we couldn’t possibly list them all! From different foods to decorations, songs, prayers, dances, and more, Ramadan is a month full of beauty. So remember even if you don’t celebrate there is something to be admired during Ramadan, beyond the impressive resolve it takes to fast.
If you are looking to surprise family and friends you know that celebrate, we recommend sending dates. They’ll have a deep appreciation for the symbolism in Muslim culture, and they’re a surprisingly delicious and sweet treat for how gentle they are on the stomach. The perfect way to show your love and appreciation, while respecting their traditions!
Ready For Ramadan Celebration?
– Make sure you have ordered Ramadan and Eid gifts for your dear ones.
– Want to learn more about the holiday? Check out this Ramadan infographic.
– Subscribe to our blog and share this article with friends.