What is Ramzan, and how is it observed around the world?

Credit: DK Find Out

Ramzan, the Month of Fasting began a few days ago, on April 23.

What is Ramzan? Muslims all over the year observe the one-month long religious occasion of Ramadan or Ramazan. It is believed that it was  during this period in 610, on Laylat Al-Qadar, or the Night of Power, that the archangel Gabriel appeared before Prophet Mohammed and revealed the Quran or Holy Book, to him. Ramzan takes place during the ninth month of the calendar and changes every year because it follows the lunar calendar. Each year, the beginning and end dates are determined when a new moon is sighted over Saudi Arabia.

How is Ramzan observed? For one month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. They don’t eat or drink anything, including water. Fasting is said to bring worshippers closer to God. It is compulsory for all Muslim adults to fast unless they are ill, travelling, have their period or are pregnant, and for the elderly. Children have to fast after they reach puberty. They must also pray five times a day, try to be more selfless and reflect on their actions by trying not to lie, gossip or fight. In keeping with the selflessness, many mosques and other organisations serve free evening meals to the poor each day.

Suhoor and Iftar: During this time, people use meals as a social community event and break their fasts together. The pre-sunrise meal is called suhoor, and the post-sunset meal is called iftar. Most Muslims will break their fast with a sip of water and some dates or apricots, just as  the Prophet Mohammed did nearly 1500 years ago. After nearly a month, the end of Ramzan is celebrated with the festival Eid al-Fitr when families get together. 

What foods do people break their fast with? One of the most important parts of Ramadan is the iftar at night when families get together to pray and eat. People eat different things all over the world. Here are a few examples.

  • In Morocco Harissa soup made of lentils and tomatoes is a favourite.
  • Erk Soos is a popular drink during this time, especially in Lebanon and Syria. It is made from liquorice, and though it is a bit bitter, it quenches your thirst immediately.
  • In Nigeria, they eat their usual staple pap and akara for breakfast. Akara are fried bean cakes that are high-protein, so they give you energy to keep going through the day. It is served with pap, a side of blended corn.
  • The Indonesians favour a dessert called kolak. It is made with coconut sugar, coconut milk, and the pandanus leaf. Sometimes they add banana, sweet potatoes, jackfruit, or pumpkin too. It’s a Ramzan tradition, and some even break their fast with it first as an alternative to dates and milk to give you a burst of energy after a long day’s fast.
  • Piyaji is like an Indian bhajia and made with onion and lentils that is extremely popular in Bangladesh during this time.
  • A rainbow coloured sweet, Kue Lapis is a steamed cake, made of rice flour, coconut milk and tons of a lot of food colouring and is eaten all over south Asia during Ramzan, especially in Singapore.
  • The one thing that’s popular across border though is Haleem stew. It’s an ancient recipe using wheat, barley, lentils, and often, meat and it takes about eight hours to cook. Then end result is yummy and definitely worth the wait!

This year, Ramzan has started in the middle of the coronavirus epidemic, and with social distancing and lockdowns around the world, it will be hard for those who are observing it as it will not be as big a community event, and will be much quieter. It will end on Eid, which is on May 24, 2020.

Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.

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