How Ramadan is celebrated around the world

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)
How Ramadan is celebrated around the world
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People break their fast on June 6, 2016, at the Blue Mosque square in Istanbul. (AFP)
How Ramadan is celebrated around the world
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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

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.

Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle

Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle
Updated 5 min ago

Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle

Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle

KABUL: When Hanan Habibzai became a refugee in 2008, he left Afghanistan with a sense of responsibility toward all those left behind, especially widows and orphaned children.
As he made the UK his new home and managed to establish himself, Habibzai founded Helping Orphans in 2016, a charity that gives vocational training and literacy courses to women and children.
Helping Orphans estimates that there are as many as 3.5 million widows and 2.6 million orphans in Afghanistan today. Often uneducated, the women face few options if their husbands die, while children end up working out of necessity and never receive an education.
“What will happen to these children when they grow up? Their parents are taken away and they are left alone in poverty and hardship, and they have never been in school,” Habibzai told Arab News.
“What can we expect from these children when they grow and take control of their communities except problems? So, I established this charity to help vulnerable children and orphans join school. These are the exact reasons as to why I established Helping Orphans.”
As his family was displaced by the Afghan-Soviet war of the 1980s, Habibzai knows from his own experience what hunger and poverty mean. The situation in the country has become even worse now, he said, after the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban in 2001.
Before he left Afghanistan, Habibzai worked as a journalist, traveling across the country’s provinces, witnessing hopelessness and despair.
“Within the Afghan poverty-stricken and war-torn nation, I see displaced families, a refugee going through many difficulties, a 10-year-old orphan becoming responsible for feeding his family, or a woman who has lost her husband and now has to look after her children while she has nothing,” he said.


Helping Orphans estimates that there are as many as 3.5 million widows and 2.6 million orphans in Afghanistan today. Often uneducated, the women face few options if their husbands die, while children end up working out of necessity and never receive an education.

“Today I live in the UK. I have everything here. My family and I have three full meals a day. But back in Afghanistan, there are many people who do not even have a single meal a day and are facing severe poverty and hardship.”
The latest survey by the UN indicates that 18 million people in Afghanistan — half of the country’s population — are in need of emergency aid.
In the beginning, through donations from individuals, Helping Orphans provided direct relief in the form of food and cash, but in June last year Habibzai realized that more sustainable efforts were needed.
In Kabul, the charity now enrolls children in school while their mothers take part in three-month courses to become tailors, allowing them to be self-reliant. About 20 women have completed the first training courses. One of them is Shamila, who lost her husband, a commando soldier, and was left alone with a young son about two years ago.
“The world had come to an end for me with the death of his father when my child wept,” she told Arab News.
“I joined the workshop of the charity, learned tailoring and it has been a big change both mentally and financially,” she added. “I am a tailor at home now. I earn money this way and have been able to stand on my feet.”
The charity is now planning to open more courses and teach other professions, like hairdressing, to help women provide for themselves.
“We want the aid to have a long-term impact on the lives of people, so beneficiaries can learn a profession,” said Helping Orphans Director Abdul Fatah Tayeb.
“We want them to learn how to fish rather than giving them a fish. The fundamental goal is to make people self-sufficient.”