The blessed month of Ramadhan is upon us again.
Ramadhan (also known as Ramadan or Ramzan) is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar which consists of 12 months and lasts for about 354 days. The word “Ramadhan” is derived from an Arabic word for intense heat, scorched ground and shortness of food and drink.
It is considered to be the most holy and blessed month and begins with a moon sighting. Fasting in Ramadhan is the fifth pillar of Islam and for 29 or 30 days (depending on when Ramadhan begins according to the moon-sighting), Muslims across the world fast during the hours of daylight. It is also period of prayer, charity and self-accountability. For many, it is a time of self-examination and learning about self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity. It also reminds them of the suffering of the poor, who may rarely get to eat well. Ramadan is also a time for many Muslims to donate to charity by participating in food drives for the poor, organizing a collection or charity event, and other voluntary activities. Muslims are encouraged to be charitable during Ramadan.
It is a special month in the lives of Muslims when many will try to become better Muslims by praying more than the obligatory five daily prayers, reading and studying the Qur’an or meditating in retreat. Special congregational prayers called the tarawih prayers are also held in mosques and at homes only during the month of Ramadhan.
The first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during the last ten days of Ramadhan, making this period especially blessed. The actual night on which the Qur’an was revealed though is called Laylat al-Qadr or The Night of Power and is believed to fall on one of the last odd nights of Ramadan (21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th and 29th).
To prepare for the fast, it is recommended to have one meal known as the suhoor just before sunrise or fajr. Some prefer to eat something just before they retire for the night so as not to break their sleep and yet others get up some other time during the night to eat suhoor. Some are able to fast without any suhoor meal at all.
The daily fast is broken at sunset with an evening meal known as iftar which means “opening or breaking the fast”. In Malaysia, iftar is called “buka puasa” which means exactly the same thing literally.
Ramadhan ends with another moon sighting on the 29th day of fasting. When the first crescent of the new moon is sighted, marking the start of the next lunar month, Shawwal, Eid-al-Fitr is celebrated.
The Muslim world has an almost staggering diversity of cultures and each Muslim country may have its own special customs and things associated with Ramadan, especially when it comes to food and eating.
In Malaysia, one of the things you will find ONLY in Ramadhan is the Bazaar Ramadhan. Everyone, and not just Muslims, in Malaysia, looks forward to and enjoys the local delights that are sold in the myriad of hawker stalls at various locations organised by the local municipality. Some of the food sold at these Bazaars are only available during Ramadhan. Its quite an experience to shop for local cuisine for “buka puasa” at these Bazaars, and mind you, its very easy to buy too much!
There is no such concept in Kuwait though. All kinds of Ramadhan sweets and breads are available all day in various supermarkets and other than that, all food establishments are closed until after iftaar. So Kuwaiti households prepare many local dishes at home, those especially associated with Ramadhan, and just before iftar, it is quite common to see maids or houseboys carrying large trays of food to share with their neighbors.
Ramadhan buffets, though, are something that is common both in Malaysia and Kuwait although, in practice, the experience is quite different. I have to say that its an aspect of Ramadhan that we much more enjoy in Kuwait, not Malaysia. Many restaurants in Kuwait serve buffets from iftar right up to suhoor and some others serve separate iftar and suhoor buffets. Some hotels also set up “Ramadhan tents” either indoors in one of the ballrooms or even on the beach if the hotel has a seafront venue.
In Kuwait there is also the concept of “Ghabga” (or “Ghabka”) which is a light meal by invitation, a get-together, usually held at homes and “dewaniyas”, and now sometimes at hotels. “Ghabgas” are usually held between iftar and suhoor usually sometime between 9pm and midnight and is an opportunity to socialise with family, friends or colleagues during the holy month.
Ramadhan Kareem and selamat menunaikan ibadah puasa, mubarak aalaikum as-shahar, wherever you may be.