Ramadan, the most beloved time of the year for Muslims, is a unique experience. From Cairo to Istanbul, Bangalore to New York, followers of the beautiful religion of Islam mark this auspicious time of the year with great joy and excitement.
Although similar in essence, Muslims across the world have different traditions and practices in celebrating the spirit of Ramadan. Now let’s take a brief look at these various practices in three major Muslim countries.
Egypt, since medieval times, has had a tradition of vibrant Ramadans. Even today, as it struggles with political turmoil and social division, Muslim worshippers continue to observe Ramadan in a carnival-like atmosphere. Egyptians pay great attention to their Iftar dinners, with authentic and unique tastes such as Basbousah, Konafah, Katayef, Eldin and Qamar. Zabadi, Medamis and delicious and colourful jars of Torshi Baladi are also among the favourites.
As the sun sets, a great silence falls over the old city of Cairo until the roar of four cannons from the Saladin Citadel suddenly breaks it, announcing Iftar. Thousands of mosques call the worshippers to prayer. But the most distinctive quality of Ramadans in Egypt must be the centuries-old tradition of decorating the streets with colourful lanterns. Every building, every street, mosque, lane and alley are lit up with these bright and cheerful decorations dotting the night sky.
India, home to world’s second largest concentration of Muslims, becomes a festival scene when Ramadan arrives. This can be felt probably the strongest at the famous Mohammed Ali Road in Mumbai. Known as the ‘kilometre-long buffet’ after sunset, it is possible to find almost any taste here from savoury to sweet, spicy to plain. Bright lights, ornaments, decorations, the constant buzz, and the happy crowd create such a charming climate that Muslims or non-Muslims come here to be a part of this happy experience. During Ramadan, the streets are kept empty, buildings are well cared for, and streets cleared to make way for prayers. Storeowners offer free food and ‘sherbet’ to passers-by. Iftar food mainly comprises fried bhajiyas, chicken fry, mutton Seekh Kebabs, Kebab Pav or other flavoured drinks. In Hyderabad, this air of celebration continues at full speed. Not only Muslims, but the authorities are extremely co-operative and respectful as well. The roads heading towards the Mecca are closed to traffic, as the municipality washes the roads to make sure that they are clean enough for prayers. But none of these can match the excitement of the last Friday of Ramadan. Mosques are filled beyond their capacity as the streets reflect the fanfare with all the colours and traditions unique to India.
Ramadan has a very dear place in the hearts of the Turks. The excitement starts weeks before the actual Ramadan. Families rush to do their Ramadan shopping and stock up on groceries for large feasts where they will dine together with beloved ones. But it is not only the joy of fasting during the day, or the excitement of waiting for Iftar at a charming feast table; it is also the festivities afterwards. Once the dinner is finished, followed by tea and a light dessert, Istanbulers usually go to Eyup to feel the Ramadan spirit at full swing. One of the main districts of Istanbul, Eyup offers a carnival atmosphere during the month with concerts, Jannisary band performances, plays, puppet shows, food stands and jugglers and other performers. Add to this the vibrant look of the city with its illuminated mosques and colourful streets, and Ramadan in Istanbul is something to be experienced by everyone.