ISLAMABAD: Across a wide belt that stretches halfway around the globe, the world’s estimated 1.6 billion Muslims will mark the beginning of Ramadan this weekend.
A Muslim holy month of fasting during which Muslims abstain from food, drink and other pleasures from sunrise to sunset, The Daily Saudi Gazette reported.
Ramadan is meant to be a time of reflection and worship, remembering the hardships of others and being charitable. Fasting is one of the five basic tenets, or pillars, of Islam.
Muslims give multiple other reasons: to teach empathy with the poor, learn self-control and show devotion to Allah. Islam exempts the elderly, young children, pregnant women and those who are ill or traveling from fasting.
It may be a time for introspection but Ramadan can also be a time of indulgence. Ramadan is a time for families and friends to gather for elaborate, fast-breaking daily meals known as iftars. So-called Ramadan tents are popular venues, providing a place for people to meet after sunset to eat and smoke water pipes until the early morning hours.
In Egypt, dates – typically eaten first to break the fast – are named after leaders, politicians or celebrities.
Mehebes: Despite the perpetual turmoil of Iraq, one surviving tradition is mehebes, a popular game played during Ramadan where players hope to win sweets by guessing who among their opposing team is hiding a ring in their hands.
Pheni and Khajla: Discs of thin, deep-fried vermicelli and crispy, puffed up discs of flaky pastry soaked with milk and eaten for the pre-dawn meal, or Suhur, in Pakistan.
Heaps of both items can be found at sweets shops and bakeries during the entire month.
In Lebanon, Jordan and Palestinian territories, the equivalent is Qatayef and Kunafa.
Cannons: Before television and radio, it was the only way to alert people it was time to break the fast. A few places, such as Makkah and Sharjah, have kept up the tradition. Every day at sunset during the holy month, cannon shots are fired at iftar time.
Lanterns: Traditional colorful lanterns, also known as Fanoos, are an integral part of Ramadan in Egypt, where they are hung at the entrance of each building, supermarket and shop.
Musaharati: A person entrusted with waking people up for a pre-dawn meal and prayers ahead of the day’s fast by banging on drums. While the centuries-old tradition is fading away – phone alarms replacing the drumming – the custom is still alive in some
parts of Beirut, Cairo and Gaza.