How Ramadan is celebrated around the world

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Children decorate streets to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan in Al-Beracil village in Giza, Egypt, on May 13, 2018. (Getty Images)
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People break their fast on June 6, 2016, at the Blue Mosque square in Istanbul. (AFP)
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Muslims break their fast in Riyadh on May 30, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 06 May 2019

How Ramadan is celebrated around the world

  • Over a billion Muslims welcome the month with different customs but same focus on spirituality
  • In the Hijaz region they burn Mastic, while in Iraq they hold Mheibes championships

JEDDAH: Muslims worldwide are welcoming the holy month of Ramadan with much anticipation and delight. 

Traditionally marked by the sighting of the crescent moon, more than 1 billion Muslims will celebrate and reflect on their faith as they fast from sunrise to sunset for the whole month. 

Designed to purify the body and focus on spirituality, Ramadan is a time when traditions and customs are highlighted, giving each country its unique spirit.

Every year, Muslims prepare themselves and their homes to focus on the sanctities of the month, as it commemorates the revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Mohammed — significant peace comes with that. Homes are calmer, prayers are heard across cities, iftar meals to break the fast are prepared early, youths volunteer and spread joy to the less fortunate, and family gatherings abound — these are just some of the highlights of the month. 

There is unity and closeness; humble, shared meals; the strengthening of bonds; and spiritual reflection. 

Muslims and Christians perform acts of charity by providing large banquets in front of mosques.

A Palestinian holds balloons near Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock on June 25, 2017. (AFP)

With plenty of food to go around, it does not matter if you are poor or rich — the shared experience of generosity brings people together.

Across Saudi Arabia, Ramadan rituals are sacred in many households. As the sun starts to set, homes are filled with the smell of cardamom and Arabic coffee, which is prepared for iftar.

There is also a heady mix of fried dough, prepping for samboosa, and the sweet smell of karkadeh, a hibiscus tea. Across the Kingdom, recitals of the Qur’an can be heard as family members start trickling into their elders’ homes with dishes of Arabic sweets such as lugaymat and atayef (thin pancakes stuffed with cream or crushed fried almonds with syrup).

Saudis break their fast with a few dates and milk or a yogurt drink sometimes mixed with mint leaves. 

Some families arrange a drinks tray of qamar al-din (apricot juice), soobya (a traditional Hijaz drink made from barley or bread doused in water for a few days and sweetened with sugar and raisins) and tamarind juice. Meals are light, and families relax after iftar with traditional sweets and Arabic coffee before Taraweeh prayers.

A very common custom among families of the Hijaz region is to burn mastic (a natural resin or gum extracted from mastic trees) and place jugs above the incense to mix the taste of Zamzam water (filled afterward) with the incense.

Small tin cups called tutuwah are also used to drink Zamzam water, infused with the smell of mastic incense.  

Egyptian dancers perform the Tanoura during Ramadan on May 22, 2018. (AFP)

In Egypt, children run around their neighborhoods swinging a small fanoos (lantern) and singing “wahawi ya wahawi,” a folkloric song that celebrates the start of Ramadan. Egyptians decorate their homes, streets and alleyways with fawanees (plural of fanoos).

Known for their hearty cuisine, their meals are heavy for iftar and light for sahoor, the last meal of the night before resuming the fast. 

Families and friends gather in mosques and pray alongside each other. After concluding prayers, they gather in homes or at cafes under lights and hanging lanterns enjoying shisha and tea. A deeply rooted Ramadan custom in Egypt and across the Levant is the mesaharati, a man who wanders neighborhoods with a small drum waking people up an hour or two before dawn for sahoor, chanting “wake up sleepy, proclaim the oneness of the Everlasting.”

The mesaharati, usually a neighborhood elder, calls each neighbor by name before heading to the next neighborhood.

Despite the war in Syria, many night markets are filled with families shopping or enjoying tea while traditional songs and folklore dances are performed for the public. Another ongoing tradition is the hakawati, or storyteller. Derived from the word for story, hekaya, the hakawati tells tales of myths, heroes and fables, as well as stories from the Qur’an.

While 40 percent of Lebanese are Christian, Ramadan is celebrated by all in Lebanon, with an abundance of stuffed grape leaves, hummus, fattoush and tabbouleh. Charities, civic organizations and businesses host fundraising iftars, and mosques and churches hold clothing drives and distribute Ramadan baskets.

In Iraq, cities have come alive again after years of nightly curfews, and public spaces are filled with people of all ages enjoying post-iftar sweets and tea, shopping and an evening stroll. Locals celebrate together as cities are filled with colors and string lights. 

Mheibes, a traditional Iraqi game, is played in national championships. It is played with two teams of at least 20, with a ring hidden in the palm of a hand, and a member of the opposing team intimidating the players to see who has it.

Among the main dishes in Iraqi households are a lentil soup dish and a stew served with rice or thareed (broken pieces of flatbread steeped in the stew) with chunks of lamb. After iftar, Iraqis enjoy sweet tea and desserts such as mahalabiya, zalabia and halawat sha’iriya (golden vermicelli noodles). 

So while the spiritual intention is the same, different communities display their own unique spirit of Ramadan, preserving customs for younger generations to observe and keep.

Monsoon flooding death toll rises to 152 in South Asia

Updated 20 July 2019

Monsoon flooding death toll rises to 152 in South Asia

  • At least 90 people have died in Nepal and 50 in northeastern India’s Assam state over the past week
  • South Asia’s monsoon rains, which hit the region from June to September, are crucial for the rain-fed crops planted during the season

GAUHATI, India: The death toll in monsoon flooding in South Asia has risen to 152 as millions of people and animals continue to face the brunt in three countries, officials said Saturday.
At least 90 people have died in Nepal and 50 in northeastern India’s Assam state over the past week. A dozen have been killed in Bangladesh.
Shiv Kumar, a government official in Assam, said 10 rare one-horned rhinos have died in Kaziranga National Park since the Brahmaputra River burst its banks, flooding the reserve.
Some 4.8 million people spread over 3,700 villages across the state are still affected by the floods, though the frequency of rains has decreased in the past 24 hours, the Assam Disaster Response Authority said. More than 2.5 million have also been hit by flooding in India’s Bihar state.
Amid the flooding, 20-year-old Imrana Khatoon delivered her first baby on a boat in floodwaters early Friday while on her way to a hospital in Assam’s flooded Gagalmari village, locals said. The woman and the newborn were brought back to their home without getting to the hospital.
Community health worker Parag Jyoti Das, who visited the family, said there were no post-delivery health complications. However, the mother and the child were moved to a hospital on a boat to the nearby town of Jhargaon because of unhygienic conditions due to floodwaters, Das said. The health center in Khatoon’s village was flooded and closed.
“I would have felt happier if the baby’s father was here,” said Khatoon, whose husband works in a hotel in the southern state of Kerala.
More than 147,000 people have taken shelter in 755 government-run camps across Assam, officials said.
Authorities warned they would take action against suppliers who were reported to be distributing poor quality rice and other essentials to marooned people and inmates of temporary shelters at some places.
“We have ordered the arrest of those unscrupulous elements supplying substandard materials and playing with the lives of the affected people,” said Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam’s finance minister.
In Nepal, the Home Ministry said about 36,728 families were affected by the monsoon rains. The flooding and mudslides forced some 13,000 families to flee their homes.
In at least two of Nepal’s districts, helicopters were used to transport emergency food supplies, while other transport means were being used to move tents and other supplies to the victims.
South Asia’s monsoon rains, which hit the region from June to September, are crucial for the rain-fed crops planted during the season.