Ramadan is the one month in the entire year when families across the world are encouraged to gather and take part in unique traditions and practices that go beyond breaking their fast. Some of these practices have been kept alive for generations with the special month being a chance to relive the parts of their culture. With it being the holy month, it’s time to celebrate the rich diversity of Ramadan practices by taking a look at the most unique ones across the region.
Bringing a touch of fun to Ramadan nights, Iraq has a very unique age-old game called Mheibes that is played after iftar. It’s a game that involves two teams and it starts with one team hiding a ring in the hands of one of its members. The other team then selects a leader called “Al-Nazoul” whose job is to figure out who is hiding the ring and he must rely on his ability to read body language and facial expressions to find the culprit. Once he unravels the ring hider, the winning team’s prize is a delicious plate of baklava.
Known as the national dish of Bahrain, it’s a fan favorite meal during iftar and is packed with flavor. It’s a spicy rice dish typically made with either lamb or chicken where the rice gets cooked with a blend of spices including cumin, coriander and turmeric. With it being a spicy dish, it’s usually served with a side of salad or pickled vegetables.
Morocco’s Nafars & Tebbals
Every Ramadan night, two men dressed in a gandora (traditional robe) and slippers walk through the alleyways of Morocco’s cities to wake people up for Suhoor (the pre-dawn meal before fajr prayer). One is the tebbal (drummer) who makes a rhythmic beat with his drum while the other is the nafar (horn player) who blows an angelic tune through his horn. This same tradition can be found across the Middle East in countries like Egypt and Syria where the person in charge of waking people up would be called the messaharaty.
Beyond the delicious iftar meal, many families look forward to satisfying their sweet tooth by enjoying any array of desserts and the usual pairing of a cup of tea. In Libya, particularly in Ramadan, families eat a popular dessert called svens which is a ring of dough that is fried in oil then covered in honey, molasses or dates. The same dessert is also enjoyed in Tunisia and Algeria where called svenj.
The Gulf’s Gerga’aan
This unique tradition takes place in several countries across the Gulf including Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain as well as some cities in Saudi Arabia. On the 15th day of Ramadan, right after maghreb prayer, kids get dressed in traditional clothes and carry with them woven colorful bags. They would take these bags and go door to door around their neighborhood singing in return for nuts and sweets. Some kids even shout their songs as loud as they can thinking it will get them more sweets and nuts in their bags.
All across Sudan, there is one particular thirst quenching drink enjoyed by everyone during this month of Ramadan. Helo-murr which means bittersweet is a drink intrinsically linked to the holy month. For generations, families enjoyed the drink right after breaking their fast. Making the drink is quite the hefty process where Sudanese women harvest corn, leave it to dry in the sun before it is ground and mixed up with spices like fenugreek, cumin or even hibiscus.
With every country, there is always a dish that has to be served at least once during iftar and with Somalia, it’s injera. Bubbly, airy and spongy, it’s a fermented pancake-like bread that unlike its Ethiopian counterpart is fermented overnight rather than a few days. Injera is so well-loved that in any Somali household it acts as the centerpiece of the entire dining table where families would stack many layers on top of each other. This bread is great with any saucy dish as it absorbs the sauce and takes up a lot of flavor.
Beyond the MENA region, unique Ramadan festivities take place in countries like South Africa, Albania and India, showcasing how the entire month is one that holds a special place in the hearts of Muslims around the world. Whether it’s food, music or games, all these Ramadan traditions show how the holy month is a truly memorable time that we all look forward to each year.