Ramadan is here! And although its true essence is all about our pursuit of spiritual elevation, we – Muslims – celebrate it in every way possible. Thus, special memories about Ramadan are engraved in our hearts, and I would like to share some of mine here.
1. I was born in Ramadan: When I was a little kid, I thought this makes me special. Ramadan is a holy month and I always believed that anyone born in this month is holy or maybe a wali (saint)! This was my childhood wishful thinking, for I’m nothing near that holy state, but still feel happy for this fact and celebrate it. Next year inshAllah my Hijri birthday will coincide with my Gregorian birthday (which tells a lot about my age if you know what I mean!)2. Ramadan Specials: Kunafa, Atayef, Amar eldein and Khushaf. These are desserts that I can’t imagine Ramadan without and you will not find them any time in the rest of the year (except for Kunafa).
Kunafa, the most famous Ramadan dessert, comes with variety of fillings: cream, nuts, raisins, cheese (especially in the Levant), and the most recent addition, mango! It is almost a ritual for me to watch the Kunafa maker (In Egypt we call him Kanafany) prepares Kunafa dough in the street. Nowadays there are machines that produce Kunafa dough to accommodate for the huge demand, but nothing beats the scene of the Kunafa maker doing it himself!
3. Taraweeh: It’s just heartwarming to see the mosques packed every night for Taraweeh. My Taraweeh experience in Turkey last year was quite special and shows the differences among Muslim countries in practicing their deen. In Egypt, the majority of mosques pray 8 rak’ats (in pairs) for Taraweeh. The whole thing takes on average one hour. Last year I spent the first couple of days of Ramadan in Turkey, and what’s better than performing Taraweeh in Sultan Ahmet mosque? The prayer started with “Allahu Akbar,” and that was the last thing that I could fathom from the imam. It was my first time hearing such fast recitation (fast is even slower than his pace!), with no pauses between verses whatsoever! The next day we tried another mosque, and to my surprise the pace was even faster! It turned out afterwards that the imams do so because in Turkey they follow Hanafi madhab, in which Taraweeh should be 20 rak’ats, and in order not to make this take long time they recite Quran in that turbo pace. Hence the 20 rak’ats in Turkey takes less time than the 8 rak’ats in Egypt. But the thing that I love the most about Taraweeh in Turkey is the Salawat between each pair of rak’ats. Beautifully enchanting!
4. Fanus: The Egyptian Ramadan lantern comes in different colors and sizes. When I was a little kid I had a small Fanus and used to gather with my sisters & friends to roam with our lit up Fanuses in the streets of our neighborhood in Ramadan nights, especially the first night, singing a very old pharaonic song: “Wahawy ya Wahawy”. Now I have a bigger one that my mom keeps lit up in our balcony during all Ramadan nights.
5. Fawazir: The word literally means riddles. Fawazir were riddles in the form of musicals that go around different theme every year in Ramadan and the winner is the one who gets all the answers right. Little kids used to wait for Fawazir to imitate the moves and the songs that were usually lively and cheerful. Many stars have presented Fawazir, but the best were Nelly, Sherihan and Fattuta.
6. Suhur: If you happen to visit Istanbul during Ramadan, then having an open air Suhur in the open yard of Eyup Sultan mosque is a must! It’s crowded, but every group has its own space. It’s just awesome to have your Suhur snacks in this spiritually loaded spot. Reminds me with Suhurs in the yard of Al-Hussein Mosque in Cairo, same spirituality but more crowded, which could be annoying sometimes.
7. Charity: Having an Iftar with my friends is one of my Ramadan traditions. A couple of years ago after an enjoyable Iftar with them and carrying a box of leftovers with me on my way to my car, I passed by a homeless man searching for food in a big garbage container. We know, this is Ramadan and charity is highly encouraged and rewarded in it, so I offered him to take the box of the leftovers for Iftar. His response gave me the most mesmerizing moment of my life: “Thanks, keep it for yourself daughter, I have lots of food as you can see. Alhamdulela (Thank God),” and he was pointing to some food that he collected from the garbage! And I’m the one carrying a box of leftovers because the quality of the food served specially to me in a restaurant was not satisfying for me.
8. Family Iftars: My family appreciates family ties like no other family does! If you watched the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you will get what I mean. By family here I don’t only mean uncles, aunts and cousins; think second and third cousins as well! We gather even for no clear occasion, so Ramadan has to be really over the top in order to be special. The mastermind behind our grand Ramadan Iftar is my Grandmother. She insists on inviting everyone and making sure that there is enough food of sufficient variety to appeal to all. For two weeks prior the gathering day, she declares a state of emergency and goes in long debates with my mother and her daughters on the dishes that should be served. Sometimes before Isha prayer, one of my many second cousins gives a short spiritual talk. The ladies always pray Taraweeh at my grandmother’s home and men perform it in a nearby mosque. I wonder how this year’s gathering would be given that my grandmother is not with us anymore. May Allah grant her Paradise.
9. Eid delights preparations: Back to food! The Egyptian woman never fails to occupy her time with food preparations. And when the last week of Ramadan knocks the door this means that it’s time to get ready for Eid, or in another word, time for Kahk. This ritual is associated with a special person in my life, Mama Raga’a. A very typical Egyptian lady that follow all the Egyptian traditions in her life, she was our neighbor and my sitter at the same time when I was a baby. It was at her place when I first held dough with my hand and started to form my first Eid cookie (Kahk) and to use the Mona’ash (a tool to garnish the Kahk). Incomparable fun!
These were a few Ramadan memories out of countless ones and more to be added inshAllah. I would like to hear from you about your special Ramadan moments. Ramadan Kareem!
For more on MMW’s Ramadan series, and to read the rest of this year’s Ramadan posts, click here.