Ramadan Around The World
The holy month is an important time for Muslims everywhere. Oasis Living looks at some diﬀerent cultures and their own unique traditions when observing the occasion
The second half of May will see the start of Ramadan, the ninth month of the twelvemonth Islamic calendar. This is a
time when Muslims worldwide fast
from dawn to sunset every day.
It is one of the five pillars of Islam
and is seen as an act of worship
and a way to become more
compassionate towards those in
Along with fasting, the holy month is
a time for introspection, prayer, and
practicing self-restraint. But it is also
a cause for celebration and spending
precious time with family and friends.
Indeed, there are many unique ways
people express what Ramadan means
From Saudi Arabia to Indonesia, here
are some unique traditions from
around the world.
In Indonesia, observers take the
time to visit the graves of their
forefathers to pay respect by
praying and leaving ﬂowers. It is a
time to connect with the past.
During the graveside prayers,
Muslims may ask God for good
fortune or good health, among
other things. The ritual is known
as ‘nyekar’ and usually takes place
the week before Ramadan begins,
with families crowding cemeteries
across the country.
In some parts of Indonesia,
Muslims even visit the graves of
ancient kings and revered public
figures to pay their respects.
During these visits, one can also
take part in ‘nyandran’ which
involves bringing food as an
Another tradition observed by
Indonesians before the start of
Ramadan includes 'padusan'
which consists of a bathing ritual,
a symbolic act of purifying the
body and soul before partaking in
the holy month.
Practitioners of this tradition can
be seen in sarongs – a week or so
before fasting begins – heading
toward local rivers, the sea or
a natural spring. The cleansing
ritual largely consists of splashing
one's face and arms with water
before gathering for a communal
prayer and then enjoying a simple
Ramadan brings with it a festive string
of lights in Istanbul, Turkey, as the main
mosques of the city adorn the space
between their largest minarets with
messages written in lights and call the
practice ‘mahya’ – meaning "writing in the
sky" in Turkish.
Traditionally, the messages are changed
five times during the holy month, featuring
welcome greetings, farewells and religious
This observation stretches back almost four
centuries, before electricity was even in
place. Originally, oil lamps were hung and
had to be refuelled every four hours.
"Besides the lights, other practices I've
noticed include the sounding of the Fajr
Azzan (prayer) earlier at suhoor time as
well as the sounding of drums in some
neighbourhoods," said Isra Nabil, an ex-UAE
expat and now current resident of Istanbul.
While the deafening sound of a cannon
being fired may be startling to some, to
fasting Muslims this is a sound of sheer
happiness, signalling the setting of
the sun and marking the time to break
their fast. Humorously, it is said this
worldwide famed Ramadan ritual started
out accidentally. Some trace it back to a
15th-century Egyptian sultan as he fired
a cannon he was trying out by mistake
and it happened to go off the same time
as sunset. This was then mistaken by the
public as an act of thoughtfulness from
Others say the ritual originated from
another ruler of Egypt and Sudan in the
19th century when his soldiers were
maintaining a cannon only to fire it by
mistake – the people again considered
this to be a thoughtful act. Princess Fatimah, the sultan's daughter, knew
well to take advantage of that and made
it an official tradition.
Egypt is well known for its festive
environment during Ramadan;
children adorn their houses and
street with decorations, especially
lanterns. They bustle around
from house to house offering and
trading traditional sweet and savoury
It is believed that the lanterns became
a tradition more than a thousand years
ago when the people of Cairo were
expecting Caliph al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah
al-Fatimy’s arrival at night and stepped
out to illuminate the paths with lanterns.
The Caliph then decided to start this as
tradition due to its pleasing aesthetics.
This is but one of many tales tracing
back to the origin of the practice.
“Before that, lanterns were just used
to walk around at night, and to walk to
the mosque. But when the Caliph came,
the whole community went to welcome
him with their lanterns. Since then it
became that the month of Ramadan
is more beautiful with lit up lanterns
everywhere,” said managing director
of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for
Cultural Understanding in Dubai, Dr
Egypt, Somalia, and
Long before alarm clocks and
smartphones, the Middle East and
North Africa had the ‘musaharati ‘as a
wake-up service for Ramadan prayers.
A musaharati is a title given to the
person tasked with waking the
neighbourhood for suhoor. He would
walk through the streets, calling:
“Wake up sleepy ones, praise God;
Ramadan is the month of forgiveness
(Es’ha ya nayem, wahed el dayem,
Ramadan Karim, Es’ha ya nayem,
wahed el razaq)” and then bang his
drum three times.
In some cities and villages, he would
even call individual households by
name. The tradition is believed to
have originated from Egypt and is
still practiced in many countries like
Somalia, Lebanon, and Egypt as well.
"In a way, those were much simpler
times," said UAE-expat, M Ismail
from Somalia as he recalled his time
back home. "Besides the musaharati,
we also had a special Azzan an hour
before Fajr to let people know it is time
"The practice of the Azzan is still
observed but the tradition of the
musaharati is now only experienced in
a few small towns and settlements,"
In the Maldives, poets step up
after iftar gatherings to recite
Raivaru, an ancient-traditional
form of poetry that relates to
Ramadan. This much-loved,
festive tradition consists of two
main types, with the first raivaru
comprising of six lines of words
called "Ha bahuge raivaru" while
the second type is of three lines
called "Thin bahuge raivaru."
Food is an essential part of the Holy Month
and with the diversity present among
Muslims, there are countless delicious
Emiratis, for instance, feature a diverse
range of dishes from around the world
on their Ramadan table. You will find the
Emirati traditional dish harees (wheat
porridge with meat), and some Levantine
salads like fattoush.
Egyptians, on the other hand, break their
fast with dates and then start off with a
dish they would usually have at breakfast,
like shakshouka (poached eggs in tomato
sauce) and ful medames (broiled fava beans
with vegetable oil, herbs and spices). They
believe it goes easier on the stomach,
slowly working their way through to
Going east, in Jordan, the iftar table
is colossal, including several courses.
However, the one main dish that you will
always find is the Jordanian national
dish, mansaf – a pungent, bed of rice and
herbs-spiced lamb chops served on top with a garnish blend of diluted yogurt and every
kind of nut your heart desires (their hearts
prefer pine nuts though).
In Pakistan, sweet and savoury dishes are
largely served as well. You will fnd the table
bedecked with dishes like pakoras (sliced
vegetables dipped in batter and then deep-fried), samosas, kebabs, dahi baray (fried
lentil dumplings served with yoghurt), and
namak paras (seasoned crackers).
Though one similarity all these cultures
share is drinks like Amar el-din, Tamarind,
Two weeks into the Holy Month, the
gerga’aan tradition takes place – a
three-day celebration that sees children
in traditional clothing knocking on their
neighbours’ doors after Maghreb prayers
and singing in exchange for confectioneries.
Think Halloween, but minus the trickery of
Although not unique to any one culture,
Muslims often practice charitable acts,
especially in Ramadan. These actions
include donating food, time, and money.
Often, families, friends and even companies prepare care packages consisting of staple
foods which they then distribute to the less
fortunate. These bags usually contain dry or
"Ramadan is a blessed month where friends
and family reconnect, and old disputes are
left behind," said Emirati citizen Maryam
Al Dhaheri. "It's also a time to reach out
to those in need. For this reason, it is
an Emirati custom to send food out to
family, friends, neighbours and those less
Ramadan nights are lively as communities
come to life after iftar and tarawih prayers,
heading out to neighbours and friends to
Along with talking the nights away, a
popular tradition in Iraq is to partake in
mheibas. Similar to the game of Up Jenkins
it consists two teams, each attempting to
hide a ring from the other. It starts with one
player handing a ring stealthily to another
player on the same team and then the other
team elects a member to step forward and
make one guess as to who holds the ring.
The trick is to study the facial expressions of
others and crack their expressions.