Another year has passed and another Ramadan season is upon us. For many Muslim countries, the Holy month of Ramadan is a festive period filled to the brim with traditions. While religious traditions, such as tarawih prayers and fasting, are shared across these countries, each one has different cultural traditions.
Weeks before Ramadan starts, thousands of street vendors in Egypt start selling lanterns of different sizes and colors. Homes all around the country are decorated with these lanterns and children carry around small lanterns that sing various traditional Ramadan songs such as “Ramadan Gana” and “Wahawy ya wahawy”. Before iftar, families gather around the dining table and wait for the midfa al iftar (iftar cannon) to be fired on TV, the iftar cannon is traditionally fired seconds before the Maghrib call to prayer which signals the end of the fasting day. Both the lanterns and cannon traditions can be traced back to the Fatimid era in Egypt. Egyptians usually break their fast with a date and bowl of soup or a glass of Qamar El Din (a type of apricot juice), tamarind or karkadeh (hibiscus). Meals are usually heavy and filling, people will traditionally have coffee and tea after the iftar, as well as traditional desserts such as basbosa or konafa. The families usually get together during the first week of Ramadan while friends usually meet during the rest of the month.
In Saudi Arabia, Ramadan is filled with the smell of sambosa being prepared and the sound of Quran recitation. Unlike in Egypt, iftar in Saudi Arabia is much lighter as Saudis usually break their fast with dates and milk. There is a myriad of drinks that accompany a Saudi iftar, such as Qamar El Din, tamarind and soobya, which is a traditional Hijaz drink made from barley or bread doused in water for a few days and sweetened with sugar and raisins. The Hijaz has another unique drink which consists of Zamzam water infused with burned mastic (a gum that comes from mastic trees). People then spend the time after iftar relaxing while drinking tea, coffee and sweets. Ramadan is also a time for family gatherings, which become more frequent during this time of year.
Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world and has traditions that differ from those in the Arab world. Before suhoor, many young children will start chanting and banging on drums to wake people up for the meal before the long fast. Pop-up markets selling traditional Indonesian food can be found throughout the streets, even during daylight hours. Moreover, these markets will have festive Ramadan food and drink that isn’t usually sold during the rest of the year. One traditional Ramadan food is Kicak, which is widely eaten in Yogyakarta. This is a mashed rice based dish mixed with coconuts and sliced jackfruit bulb. Iftar can be an eventful gathering in Indonesia, as there is the traditional buka puasa bersama, which literally means breaking the fast together. During the event, tens to hundreds of people gather to break fast together and such events are usually done in outdoor spaces, such as mosque exteriors.
Fruit is a big part of Ramadan in Nigeria, as many Muslims there usually break their fast with fruit before proceeding to the main iftar meal. Iftar in Nigeria is usually light as it consists of fried eggs, roasted corn on the cub and fried yam. As in other countries around the world, families will gather together for Iftar meal and many will go to the mosque to pray taraweh prayers.