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Ramadan is About Sharing and Forgiving

 Silvia Radan

15 August 2009 In the week before the holy month, children go from door to door in their neighbourhoods, singing Ramadan songs. In return, they usuallyreceive sweets.

Ramadan is here, here is Ramadan.   Ramadan is coming, the time thatis blessed.

Ramadan is coming, the time we love best.

The month in which the Holy Quranwas sent.

A time of great blessing, in which to repent.

Fasting for Allah is a great Muslim deed.

Controlling desires and suppressing greed.

The time has come again to hearsuch songs.

The custom and tradition of Ramadan may have a modern twist, but they are still kept and passed on from generation to generation since the beginning of Islam.

“In the ancient traditions, UAE people prepared for the arrival of the Holy month of Ramadan two weeks in advance or from the blessing night in mid Shaban”, said Shaikha Al Jabri, researcher at Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH).

The eighth month in the Islamic lunar calendar, Shaban is the month dedicated to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who used to fast, in preparationfor Ramadan.

Food shopping for essentials such as oil, sugar and rice was also done in the days before Ramadan.

“At home, women gather at a big house in the fareej — Arabic neighbourhood — to grind barley and grains for baking the popular thin bread”, added Al Jabri.

When the time comes, the shaikh or wali assigns a trusted man with good eyesight to watch the moon and when he does spot the crescent, shots are fired to announce the arrival of Ramadan and the beginning of fasting.

“In remote regions a man climbs up a mountain to sight the new moon. Then villagers fire bullets or set fires so that near-by regions can see and hear the news of the coming of Ramadan. A messenger is also sent to other remote localities to inform the people about the beginning of Ramadan,” explained Al Jabri.

“For the month to come, Muslims fast by day and feast by night. From dawn to dusk, they do not touch food and water. Necessities such as brushing teeth are allowed, for as long as they do not swallow water.

As soon as the sun sets, the fast is broken with dates, laban and sometimes lentil soup.

For breaking fast (iftar), people gather in one big house, men with men and women with women, in a pleasant get-together reflecting social solidarity. Around one table, the social strata is melted out, as the rich and poor sit and eat together,” said al Jabri.

The night is spent in prayers with friends and families.

Sorouh is a pre-dawn light meal, traditionally announced by a drummer, tasked with waking up people.

“The drummer, who also recites some hymns, is rewarded with dates, rice or money for the noble job,” added Al Jabri.

For Saeed bin Kraz Al Mohairi, manager of Qasr Al Hosn, the first royal palace in Abu Dhabi, it is very important to keep the old custom and tradition of Ramadan intact.

“All Muslims love Ramadan. It is the time when you give your soul to God. You sit with your own self, you think about paradise, you visit your friends and share food with them,”Al Mohairi said.

The nobility of fasting, of giving, of sharing and of forgiving, the closeness to divinity, the memories of wise grandfathers, never bending in their faith and the dreams of one day standing proud next to them in an afterlife of eternal happiness make up the rohaniat, the spiritual conversations late in the Ramadan nights.

“I like to talk about rohaniat. I sit with my wife and my sons and we talk about life. It is very special when young and old gather together and share their thoughts, their knowledge and their dreams,” said Al Mohairi.

Another special tradition in Ramadan is the taraweeh, the night prayers. After the isha night prayer, people stay on at the mosque to perform taraweeh.

Once he finishes his prayers, Al Mohairi goes out to visit his friendsand family.

Some Muslims believe that during Ramadan, one must visit up to 40 neighbours, but Al Mohairi pointed out that this is not compulsory.

“The first people I visit during Ramadan are the shaikhs, the royal family in Abu Dhabi. Then I go to sit with my mother and father, whom sometimes I do not see for a week, and other relatives and friends not only in Abu Dhabi, but also Dubai and other emirates,” he revealed.

A Bedouin at heart, Al Mohairi has a date palm estate in Liwa and a camel farm in Al Khatem, but he prefers spending his Ramadan in Abu Dhabi.

“After all, it is a small place and, when it comes to local families, everybody knows everybody,” he pointed out.

Food, of course, is the source of many customs during Ramadan.

“I remember before, every iftar used to be announced with cannonballs shot from right here, the Qasr Al Hosn. I don’t know why, but this practice stopped around 1975”, said Al Mohairi.

In fact, firing the cannons at sunset still goes on in Dubai and Sharjah, although in Dubai real cannons have been replaced by sonic ones.

The most popular Emirati dishes during the holy month are harees, fareed, thareed, khabes, hanfroush, makbous and mahmar.

“Harees is also a dish we prepare during Eid, but sadly, only a few people today still make it in the traditional way,” claimed Al Mohairi, adding that he is one of them.

It is, in fact, his mother who is the harees chef in the house.

“You mix large grains like barley with a whole lamb chopped. Add salt, spices and water and put it in a big metal pot. Then you dig a hole in the ground, make a fire and put this pot on the fire, which you then cover with a sack, and then with sand.

“If you start cooking at about 5pm, it will be ready the next morning,” Al Mohairi said about the recipe.

“Nowadays, though, there are special pots for making harees, so people do it on modern cooking machines, but it is not the same,” he added.

What is also not the same is the fascinating old stories the elderly used to tell their young, which have been pretty much replaced with TV sitcoms about Arabic and Bedouin life and history.“What I miss most in Ramadan is sitting with old people, who had great stories about the old days, the problems they faced, how they dealt with the heat or how they went pearl diving,” said a nostalgic Al Mohairi.

Despite the inevitable loss of traditions or the modern twists brought in by the younger generations, Al Mohairi, just like Al Jabri and millions of Muslims in the UAE, look forward to a month of uplifting spirituality and coming close to old friendsand family.

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