With the advent of the pious month of Ramazan or Ramadan, hustle and bustle can be seen throughout all the Muslim households. The preparations begin a lot in advance. Excitement can be seen everywhere. From shopping for clothes and accessories to stocking up the eateries in order to avoid the last minute confusions, people do it all. This is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This is said to be the most sacred month. The word Ramadan is of Arabic origin. Its literal translation is ‘intense scorching heat or dryness’. It is a rigorous month of intense fasting wherein all the members of the family fast every day for the entire period. The fasting is mandatory for Muslims who reach puberty unless they are physically unable to do so. Certain exceptions are made in the case of children, ill people, pregnant women, diabetes patients, menstruating women etc. The fasting or the rozas commence from dawn and end at dusk. They do not consume any food or drink neither do they smoke. Swearing is something that is also avoided. As I have heard from some friends, they do not even gulp in their saliva. This might be a shocker, but it’s true.
Fasting is undoubtedly good for health. It has its perks. It gives the digestive system a rest along with allowing the cleansing and de-toxification of the body. It relaxes the body and revitalizes it. A tranquil spiritual feeling descends. In popular belief in Islamic culture, fasting washes away the sins and bestows upon the people many rewards. The fasting diverts the attention from materialistic activities and gives time for spiritual reflection, cleanses the soul and purifies the heart. The person becomes more considerate, empathetic and self-disciplined. He begins to see the less fortunate in new light and within him generosity creeps in.
The beginning of Ramadan is marked by a new moon. Fasting begins from the very next day when the moon is seen. The month lasts for approximately 30 days. It depends on when the crescent moon has been sighted.
The people who fast wake up early before the sun rises and consume the meal called ‘suhoor’ or the ‘seheri’ which keeps them going through the day. Thus the suhoor is a heavy meal which gives enough strength for the entire day to the people who are fasting. It is very necessary to consume ample amount of water or sharbat during suhoor in order to remain hydrated throughout the day. As soon as the sun rises, suhoor ends and the first prayer or the namaaz is offered. This first prayer is called the fajr or the morning prayer.
The entire day goes by without consuming anything. People put themselves through rigorous fasting. They offer five prayers or namaaz during the day. The devotion and dedication of these people is a thing to admire.
At sunset the last prayer is offered which is called the maghrib. The meal which breaks the fast at sunset is called ‘iftaar’. Most people eat dates for breaking the day long fast and later go on to have a proper feast.
At iftar, social gatherings are very common in which the meal is spread out in a buffet style. Friends and families gather for this small celebration together during the evening.
Traditional dishes and desserts are served which are specific to the month of Ramadan. Families also share the dishes they prepare for iftaar with their neighbours. Nothing quenches the day long thirst like a glass of water does! Juices and milk are also a popular choice, though caffeinated beverages are not usually consumed. Sewain is the most sought after dessert.
Common food items that are consumed during the two meals are fresh fruits and vegetables, dry fruits, kebabs, sharbat, salads, lamb stew, haleem, jalebi etc.
Some people also indulge in the practice of giving away food to the poor and homeless during iftaar. This can be done on an individual basis wherein the meal is offered to a few people. This can also be seen in large public areas where the less fortunate gather and break their fast with the food these people offer to them. This charity is one of the most important parts of Ramadan. It is believed that helping a fasting person break their fast garners great rewards.
Along with fasting and charity, reciting the Quran, the holy book, on a regular basis is also an integral part of the month of Ramadan. This recitation is voluntary rather than mandatory. Though it is pretty common to finish the entire Quran during the course of the 30 days.
Ramadan gets over on the next day after the sighting of the new moon. The day when it gets over is celebrated as Eid-ul-fitr. This festival is celebrated with huge pomp and show. The people flock the bazaars and shopping malls for new clothes and accessories. Henna or the mehendi, colourful bangles and beautiful suits are adorned by the women. This is a day of no fasting. People decorate their houses with pretty lights and set up a lavish feast. The gifts are given in the form of Eidi to children and relatives. ‘Eid Mubarak’ is the greeting that is said all around. Neighbours and family members visit each other to share sweets and dishes. Sewaiyaan is the most loved sweet dish which is prepared with vermicelli in milk along with dried fruits.
Ramadan is a month where people believe that all their sins get forgiven. And they do a lot to achieve that, fasting straight for 30 days is no easy task. It is admirable to see them put themselves through so many restrictions in order to stand by their culture.
Wishing all the people who are celebrating this holy month, Ramadan Mubaarak!!