The holy month of Ramadan, one of the most important occasions for Muslims around the world, is about to begin. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad. While basic customs like fasting and spending time with family, are consistent around the world; over the years, varied colorful traditions have developed around the world.
Gerga’aan – Kuwait
Two weeks into the holy month of Ramadan marks the beginning of Gerga’aan in Kuwait, a three-day celebration that sees children dress up in traditional clothes, knock on the doors of their neighbors to show off their costumes and sing songs in exchange for sweets and chocolates. After the evening prayers, the children head out to their neighbors’ homes and sing songs of blessings. There are two traditional songs that children sing during Gerga’aan – one for girls and the other for boys. While the origin of this tradition remains disputed, some believe that it’s a simulation of one of the first observances of Ramadan in Islam when Fatima, the first daughter of Prophet Mohammed, distributed sweets to people two weeks into Ramadan.
Lighting the ‘Fanous’ – Egypt
One of the most recognizable symbols of Ramadan, the Fanous or Lantern originates from old Cairo, now in Egypt. The tradition is believed to have been used to light the path of Caliph Moezz Eddin Allah in Cairo, as he walked to Mokattam Mountain for Ramadan’s moon sighting in the year 969 AD. Typically made of metal and colored glass, in the Middle East, the lanterns adorn homes and streets.
Nyekar – Java, Indonesia
On the island of Java, Indonesia, various local traditions have found a place in the lives of Muslims. This is particularly true of the way in which Ramadan is observed, with rituals being carried out in preparation for the holy month. For the Javanese, Ramadan is a time for introspection and marks the end of one life cycle, and the start of a new one. Before starting the month-long fast, people visit the graves of their ancestors to offer prayers. They are also known to decorate the graves of their relatives and forefathers with colorful flowers. This ritual, known as Nyekar, usually takes place a week before Ramadan begins.
Padusan – Java, Indonesia
Another one from Java; this tradition followed by the Javanese people is observed a week before the commencement of Ramadan. Padusan, a bathing ritual, is intended to purify the body and soul before starting the fast. People get together and walk to natural water bodies such as rivers, springs, or the sea, with baskets of food on their heads. After the ritual bath, they gather for a communal prayer before sitting on the ground to eat their food from plantain leaves.
Calling out Hag Al Laila – UAE
In the UAE, the Hag Al Laila, an event that aims to educate the public about the month of Ramadan, sees children walking the streets of their neighborhood asking for sweets. This Emirati traditional celebration takes place in the middle of Sha’aban, the eighth month of the Islamic Hijri calendar. On this day, children knock on their neighbors’ doors and call out ‘Atoona Hag Al Laila’, which means ‘give us sweets for tonight’.
Many of these customs and traditions are not known to many; and they reflect how Islam has blended with traditions and cultures of different regions around the world. If you know more about fascinating Ramadan traditions from any part of the world, please share with us in the comments below.
‘Ramadan Kareem’ to your loved ones and you!