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Have you ever wondered how Ramadan is observed across different Muslim countries? The Islamic world is full of beautiful cultures which bring their own traditions to the way they practice the fundamental tenets of their faith. We’ve selected a few of the more unusual Ramadan traditions to share with you.

In Indonesia, Muslims engage in a ritual called ‘Padusan’ before Ramadan starts. This involves bathing in natural pools to purify themselves, physically and spiritually. People also honour those who have passed on by cleaning the graves of relatives. Indonesian Muslims also practise ‘Meugang’- sharing meals with the poor.

In Iran, the traditions vary from region to region. For example, people in the northern province of Mazandaran start fasting at the end of Shabaan, three days before Ramadan commences. So, effectively they fast for 33 days!

In Azerbaijan, on the last Friday of Ramadan, the women and girls get together and sew a bag. Money is added to the bag which is kept until the next Ramadan. This practice is called ‘Barkat Kisasi’ -meaning a bag of blessings.

In Morocco, drummers, dressed in traditional garb, walk through the streets before dawn, banging on their drums to wake people up for Suhoor. This tradition also exists in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Palestine and many other North African and Middle Eastern countries.

In the United Arab Emirates, people celebrate ‘Haq Al Laila’ from the 15th of Shabaan. This is a fun activity for the children especially. Emirati children dress in their best clothes and go to houses in the neighbouring areas reciting songs and poems. The neighbours welcome them with sweets and nuts, which are collected by children in traditional cloth bags. People use this time to remind themselves about the significance of Ramadan and to prepare themselves physically and spiritually.

Ramadan in Egypt is truly beautiful as people adorn their homes and public spaces with ‘fanous’ – brightly-coloured glass and metal lanterns, that have now become a symbol of Ramadan. A tradition believed to have originated during the Fatimid Caliphate, the fanous has become a symbol of Ramadan across many Middle Eastern countries.  

‘Midfa al Iftar’ is an ancient Lebanese tradition. A cannon is fired at sunset indicating the end of the day-long fast. Lebanon has special Midfa al Iftar cannons from the nineteenth century, that are used only in Ramadan. Turkey and many other Arab countries also practice this tradition, which is believed to have originated in Egypt during the Mamluk period.

In India, Pakistan and Bangladesh the last night of Ramadan is known as ‘Chaand Raath’ – Night of the Moon. The Eid celebrations start as soon as the new moon of Shawaal is sighted. People exchange gifts and sweet treats and go shopping for last-minute Eid items. The women and girls also get mendhi (henna) designs drawn onto their hands in preparation for the next day – Eid.

The Tradition of Giving Charity in Ramadan

Some Ramadan traditions are very unique to specific cultures, while others are shared by many Muslim countries. But there is one practice, fundamental to Ramadan, which is observed in every Muslim country. That practice is charity.

‘Ramadan is a blessed and honourable month, and the rewards for charity are multiplied in it. The best charity is that which is given in Ramadan.’ (Tirmidhi)

Charity-giving is a fundamental part of Islam, practised by all Muslims in every country and culture. But during Ramadan, Muslims practice generosity more. In fact, giving charity, if one can afford it, is considered by many as obligatory, and just as important as fasting. One reason is that fasting allows us to empathise with those who are less fortunate and who feel hunger every day. Another reason is that our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who was the most generous of people, was even more generous in Ramadan, and Muslims want to do as he does out of love for him.

Narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas: ‘The Prophet (PBUH) was the most generous of all the people, and he used to become more generous in Ramadan when Gabriel met him. Gabriel used to meet him every night during Ramadan to revise the Qur’an with him. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) then used to be more generous than the fast wind.’ (Bukhari)

Below, we’ve listed some of the charity-giving traditions in different Islamic countries.

Ramadan Tents in UAE

In the UAE, especially in Sharjah and Dubai, individuals and organisations set up Ramadan Tents and serve hot meals to needy people at Iftar. These tents accommodate a few hundred to thousands of diners at a time. Charity meals are also served at mosques and everyone is welcome to partake in the Iftar provided.

Bread on a Hook/Hanger in Turkey

This is an ancient Ottoman tradition inspired by Islam and still practised in Turkey today. It’s called ‘Askida Ekmek’ which means ‘Hanging Bread’. People give money to a local bakery or pay extra for the bread they purchase so the baker can bake extra bread and offer this to the needy without charge. The donation of ‘ekmek’ (bread) ensures no one goes to bed hungry. This tradition has special importance in Turkey because in Islamic belief the preservation of life is sacred and bread sustains life.

Giving in Secret in the Middle East

In Gulf countries, people are encouraged to pay their Zakat and Sadaqah in Ramadan and to give privately, if possible. The names and the sizes of donations are not disclosed as Islam emphasises secret giving over public shows of generosity. This tradition respects the dignity of the recipients and prevents arrogance in the donor.

Bazaar/Pasar Amal in Indonesia

These are markets organised by various civic and charitable organisations, where goods that are donated by businesses and individuals are sold at greatly discounted prices. In this way, the poor can also celebrate the Eid holiday with new clothing and special foods.

Mawaeed Al-Rahman in Egypt

During Ramadan, many people who can afford to, host public banquets for the needy. These are called ‘Mawaeed al-Rahman’ – Tables of Mercy, where everyone is welcome. People set up long wooden tables on streets in their own neighbourhoods and in poverty-stricken areas to feed the poor.

As we can see, generosity and almsgiving are an integral part of Islamic culture and traditions everywhere in the world. But, when we give in Ramadan, we’re not only helping people with their physical needs, we give them a chance to focus on their spirituality. So, our rewards are even greater. It’s no surprise then, that the tradition of giving charity is practised so widely in Ramadan. It’s the best time to give Zakat (obligatory charity) and Sadaqah (voluntary; given for the pleasure of Allah (SWT)). And don’t forget – our rewards are multiplied!

Your Zakat and Sadaqah is a Big Help

Your charity makes a big difference to the people we support at Akhuwat. Ramadan is a time when our fellow Muslims need our help the most. In Pakistan, where we run our projects, and where 60% of the population live below the poverty line, food prices soar during Ramadan. This is why our efforts intensify over this period to answer the growing need.

At Akhuwat, we are working to end poverty completely, and that’s why we do something a little different when distributing the Zakat and Sadaqah you entrust to us. Find out how our development work is sustainable, and how you can empower the poor to raise themselves out of poverty this Ramadan.