RAMADAN is a month of celebration for Muslims around the world. Millions of Muslims around the world eagerly await the sighting of the new crescent and the dawn of the first day that mark the beginning of the holy month. This year Ramadan begins from July 9. Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam and the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is observed with prayer, fasting, reading and reciting the Qur’an, and giving to charity.

Ramadan, a month of unity and solidarity for Muslims across the continents, is observed in accordance with the historical and cultural traditions among Muslim societies. The spirit of Ramadan lies in fasting and praying, and togetherness. The social events, seasonal foods, recipes and ways of celebrating the days of Ramadan make the holy month a festive time among Muslims around the world. Muslims celebrate the beginning of Ramadan in different ways. Greetings of Ramadan Kareem (Glorious Ramadan), Ramadan Mubarak (Blessed Ramadan) and Kul Am Wa Antum Ba Khair (may every day of the year be packed with goodness) fill the atmosphere.

Saudi Arabia comes alive reflecting the colors of Ramadan._Most of the street poles in major cities of the Kingdom are decorated with ornamental Ramadan lights, and light streamers lining the important historical structures around cities are a visual delight.Also, street vendors selling miswak (tooth cleaning stick) and charity organizations distributing dates at traffic intersections are a common sight welcoming the holy month. Similarly, in Palestine boys and girls set off fireworks to celebrate the beginning of the fasting month. In Indonesia, ceremonial musicians walk the streets beating drums and singing devotional songs. While in Turkey, the mosques are decorated with ‘mahya’ lights, suspended between their minarets to display devotional messages.

In Egypt, traditional lanterns or ‘fanawee’ are the symbol of the beginning of Ramadan, and cannon shots are fired at iftar time. Kids carry colorful ‘fanoosh’ around streets while people decorate their houses with a holistic lantern to mark the celebration of Ramadan. Similarly, in Jordan and Palestine, people hang the ‘hilal’ (crescent) lamps at their windows symbolizing their holy sentiments. In India and Pakistan, it is interesting to see busy with festive decorations and celebrations.

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An eventful day during Ramadan is broadly observed within two spheres. First, the time of fasting from sunrise to sunset when a Muslim is expected to abstain from food , water, bad conduct and character and utilize the hours in prayers, reading and recitation of the Qur’an and helping the needy.

The second circles around festive food rituals of the iftar after sunset till the sahoor before sunrise in addition to the prayers, including taraweeh (special night prayers) held after Isha prayers, unique to Ramadan. As the folklore has it, in most parts of the Muslim world a ‘mushaharati’ – drummer calling out to wake people up for sahoor before sunrise can still be witnessed, especially in Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and some cities of Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as well. All around the world, Muslims traditionally open their fast with dates according to the ‘sunnah’( practice) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Generous iftar parties known as azeema, in Saudi Arabia among families, relatives and friends are plentiful. Here in Saudi Arabia, some families observe iftar on the beaches in Jeddah and Dammam and around popular parks in Riyadh. “This is a time to show exceptional hospitality to our fasting friends. Sharing and caring are intertwined principles of this auspicious month” says Ghena Al- Barazi, owner of G.G. Pieces. Another distinctive sight in Ramadan is Maa’idatar-Rahman – the banquet of the Merciful God.

It’s about tables serving iftar in the streets for free to poor people or people who happen to be still in the street and unable to get back home by iftar time. “Many persons take part in funding, preparing and serving those meals, and it’s one of the best things in Ramadan as charity, and helping the poor,” says Nasser Al-Sulaieman. Food served during the Islamic observance sees a similar variant around the Muslim world.

Muslims enjoy the holy month with delicious recipes, menus and sweet treats to break the daily fast. General atmosphere is festive and celebratory. “A time to connect with families,” says Maha Al-Malik, executive director MIX, which organizes annual food festivals in Riyadh. “During Ramadan, families and friends get together over iftar and sahoor and share their dishes over long extended sufraas (dining mats). This inspires a sense of belonging among its members.” In Ramadan, tradition and food are almost similar around the Middle East-Gulf countries, including Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Muslims break their fasts with dates and drinks and offer the Maghreb salah and return to a sumptuous full course dinner. After Isha salaah and taraweeh (special prayers during Ramadan) awaits a treat with sweet dishes like kunafeh, qatayef and various others desserts. Ladies mostly enjoy their time visiting relatives and doing the necessary shopping beyond iftar and return for sahoor preparations for their families. Sahoor is a light preparation of food just before sunrise and the Fajr salaah. Ramadan has its own special food rituals presenting its notable dishes and delights from Muslim regions across the globe. Bandar Al-Mutairi said: “In Saudi Arabia, we break our fast with qahwa Arbi and tamar (dates). Shorba (soup of oats and wheat), samboosas and kabsa with leham (meat), macaroons, lasagna, lughemaat, soopia and khowaz are the common flavors.” With traditions from different cultures finding a place on the same table of Ramdan, it sets an inspiring ambiance of religious unity and brotherhood.

In Egypt, sumptuous iftar parties are known as Ozoma. For Amani Mustafa Gamal, an Egyptian married to Nasser Hassan Abdel Samad, a Sudanese Doctor at KKIA, Riyadh, Ramadan means taking the traditional food and cultural favorites of both the countries. “Popular dishes like mahshy (rice cooked with wheat and green vegetables), lughmatal ghaazi (sweet dish), aafab-e-zainab (finger of Zainab) a sweet dish, make tasty ideas for iftar dinners,” she says. Drinks and juices like soopia, ersos, licorice, tamarind are common in Ramadan, adds Amani. “Customary Ramadan recipes and celebrations include a common national Baladi meals, lughumaat made from wheat and cereals served with special dried ladies finger sauce. Variety of bread from thick gurrafah to tissue thin khassrah are common. Halomore (a sweet and sour drink) serves for breaking the fast in Sudan, Nasser Hassan of Sudan says.

Sweets are very popular during the holy month all over the Muslim world. Local bakers prepare breads, pancakes, patties and sweetmeats like Qatayef (a sort of sweet dumpling filled with cream or nuts), an Arab dessert commonly served during the month of Ramadan. During the holy month, women remain busy making pastries and special dishes for iftar displaying the richness of their traditional cuisines.

Sweets have a special place in the Turkish Ramadan menu, especially gullac (a traditional Ramadan dessert of layers of thin cornstarch pastry soaked in rosewater-infused milk), kadayif dolma (shredded pastry filled with walnuts), revani (dense sponge cakes soaked with sugar syrup), helva (a confection made from farina and pine nuts), baklava and lokum (Turkish delight). In India and Pakistan, shops and local vendors sell fried samosas and varieties of pakoras (vegetable fritters) and jalebis, fruit chats and sweet cakes.

The hustle around the busy markets with people flocking the fruit vendors and sweet shops just minutes before iftar, though quiet noisy, is still appealing considering the religious flavor and sentiment about Ramadan. One delights in the sheer chai (sweet tea) enriched with dry fruits cooked over night on low flame, haleem ( a porridge of meat, wheat, and lentils), pulao with mutton, biryanis, sewaii, kheer — a sweet dish made from rice cooked in milk and nuts – add to the festive celebrations. In Jordan and Palestine, families share and exchange dishes with neighbors and relatives. Qatayef sweet pancakes), warq dawalli (rice and meat wrapped in grapes leaves), makhubah, malfoof, mansaf a layered main course dish of bread rice and meat with black licorice drink – arq sous are common Ramadan recipes, updates Haula Umme Hamza from Jordan.

Palestinian cheese Nablus, named after the west bank city of Nablus, is sought after by Jordanians. Muhammed Sameh from Kuwait celebrates Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr here in the Kingdom but says he misses the celebrations back home as Ramadan is a good time for family get-together, and extending invitations to relatives and friends. The completion of the month long religious observations and celebrations extends to Eid Al-Fitr, celebrated on the first three days of the Islamic month of Shawwal throughout the Muslim world.

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