By generosity month I mean the month of Ramadan, it’s the fasting month for Muslims. It’s the ninth month of the Hijri year which follows the moon movement. A new Hijri month starts with every new crescent; every Hijri month is 29 or 30 days long so the Hijri calendar is not fixed.
Every new crescent is watched (it can be watched with the bare eye in the desert) to announce the beginning of a new month. Every Hijri year is 10 to 11 days less than a Gregorian year, that’s why Ramadan is 10 to 11 days earlier each year. So it comes almost at the same date once every 33 years, this year it started on the 20th of July.
Fasting starts from dawn to sunset. To fast we stop eating, drinking, smoking from dawn to sunset. But it is not only a matter of eating or drinking: it’s related to all kind of desires, and they are all forbidden during the fasting day. The main objective of this month is to discipline ourselves and to be in control of our desires. After sunset to dawn of the following day we live our life normally.
This month is very important as it is a great opportunity for any Muslim to gain extremely generous rewards for the least good deeds they do. It’s recommended that we spend this month, in addition to fasting, in total worship to Allah in different ways. Prayer, reading the holy Koran and completing the reading at least once during the month, helping needy people in different ways. It’s an opportunity for reconciliation, forgiveness, and love between human beings.
Offering a meal to a fasting person has great reward so during this month many people set up tables in the streets and prepare Iftar (the meal we eat at sunset) meals for people. It’s so common that you find a long table set up in the street (at sunset) and tens or even hundreds of people sitting to eat. Nobody asks you who you are or where do you come from or if you are needy, or not. Anyone can sit and have a meal.
Of course you won’t be allowed to ask for your favorite meal, but you will eat what is prepared — there are no choices there. Needy people don’t worry a lot about what to eat or how to find a meal during this month; they are all sure they will find plenty of food easily during the whole month.
In Egypt we have our own way to celebrate this month, our traditions and customs can’t be found in any other country. I agree, it has nothing to do with the instructions or the rules of the religion, but it’s a kind of heritage that we had from our ancestors that makes this month has different meaning and flavor in Egypt.
In addition to all the religious aspects that we all commit to, we have some customs and traditions that we gained over centuries. First, almost in every street in any city you will find some kind of ornaments in the street or in the balconies of the houses. Pendent lights, lanterns or even pendent flags. One of the most important traditions of Ramadan is the Fanoos (a kind of lantern). Every family has at least one at home. We buy it for our kids and it’s size varies from a small one that a kid can carry in their hand to one that is more than one meter tall that can be put on the floor or hung up in the ceiling or in the streets.
It is made of tin sheets and colored glass and there is either a candle inside for smaller ones or a bulb for larger ones to keep them lit. Nowadays there are lanterns imported from other countries for kids as toys, but the original Fanoos is still the most important and the irreplaceable for all of us.
This month has its own customs even in food and beverages; there are recipes and desserts that we prepare only during Ramadan. One of these is Katayef, it’s a little bit similar to pan cake but smaller in size where we add nuts inside and close it by folding the edge. Then we fry it in very hot oil and we add sherbet. As fasting for almost 16 hours makes us feel dehydrated, we need to drink a lot of water and other kind of drinks after Iftar.
We consume more liquids during this month, and we stick to include different kinds of drinks on our Iftar table like cold and fresh juices, soaked hibiscus and other herbs. Members of each family gather to have Iftar and Sohour (second meal that we have before dawn) together even if they don’t normally do it during the rest of the year. Collective Iftar meals are organized at workplaces, in the clubs, and between friends. People tend to gather a lot during this month. Many cultural, sportive and religious activities are organized during the month of Ramadan.
After the 29 or 30 days of the month of generosity, the month of Ramadan, comes the lesser Bairam (Eid Elfitr). It’s a three day festival to celebrate the end of our fasting month, and it starts with a group prayer, preferred in open air, at sunrise on the day immediately following Ramadan. For the Eid we buy new clothes and new shoes for our kids.
At night, before going to bed, kids get bathed and prepare their new clothes and shoes near their beds. And in the morning, they put on their new clothes and go out to visit their grandparents and members of the extended family. Elders and adults usually give kids an amount of money instead of gifts to celebrate the Eid and to have fun.
What religious ceremonies does your family participate in where you live? Are there any special cultural customs that are present in the religious occasion that are specific to your geographical location?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Nihad from Alexandria in Egypt. Nihad blogs at Aurora Beams Life Coaching.
Photo credits to the author.