Dubai: Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and has the second largest number of believers in the world at more than 1.6 billion people. During Ramadan, Muslims across the world join in prayers and fasting for 30 days, but there are some traditions that are unique to regions and cultures. We look at five unique Ramadan traditions from around the world that have stood the test of time.
Mesaharaty — a wake-up call
The pre-dawn meal of suhour can be particularly hard to wake up for, especially since Ramadan is a time when most people stay awake late into the night with family and friends. But what if you had your own personal human wake-up call? In a number of Arab countries, a Mesaharaty or a ‘night caller’ walks around the village streets beating soft drums and calling out to mark the time to wake up for suhour. In countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt, this is still a common practice in villages, where the ‘Al Tabbeil’ or drummer calls out individual family names as he walks by. They demand no payment, but people usually treat these tireless workers with gifts at the end of Ramadan.
Midfa Al iftar — Firing the canon
A tradition that started at a time where there were no phone alerts to mark Maghrib, this is one that has definitely stood the test of time and technology. The first canon blasts are believed to have started in Egypt; how long ago is unknown. Today, the canons are reminiscent of the tradition and are more symbolic than a necessity. In the UAE, there are various locations where the canon is fired to signal the end of the day’s fast. It is understood that the tradition first caught on in the UAE in Sharjah, before the 1950s, and then came to Dubai in the 1960s.
Fanous — the Ramadan lantern
Another beautiful Ramadan tradition that is believed to have originated in Egypt is the brightly coloured and unique Ramadan lamp or lantern. The lantern, called fanous or fawanees, has become symbolic of Ramadan. Made of metal and glass, these lanterns come in various shapes and sizes. To this day, when Egypt’s’ side alley souks and shops fill up with colourful fawanees, it is evident that Ramadan is just a few days away.
Padusan — Purifying the soul
It is often seen that each country’s embedded cultural practices show up in the faiths of their people as well. For Indonesian Muslims based in Java, padusan is such a tradition. Padusan is a ritual where Muslims bathe in natural pools in the city, in an act of purification of the body and soul. This is done before Ramadan starts, in preparation for the month of prayer and fasting.
Nyekar — the circle of life
Another Indonesian custom, nyekar is the act of paying respects to forefathers and departed family members before Ramadan begins. This ritual is based on the belief of the Javanese Muslims that Ramadan marks the end of one life cycle and the beginning of another. In some rural areas, this act is accompanied with offerings for their ancestors.