Ramadan Mubarak! 

If you are not yourself Muslim, or don’t have friends or family who are, you may not know that the month of Ramadan has been going since March 22nd and is coming to an end for the year very soon, on April 20th, at which time the celebration Eid-Al-Fitr will begin. As I’ve written about in an earlier blog post, Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, and is most well known to be a period of fasting, charity, and prayer for Muslims around the world. And while Muslims locally and across the world are almost all fasting during daylight hours and performing charity and prayers, there are many other celebrations and traditions that take place to celebrate this holy month. Different countries, different religious denominations within the Muslim faith, and even different neighborhoods might have vastly different traditions! So today, I want to share a few of the many ways Ramadan is being celebrated around the world. 

Drumming Children in Turkey 

Muslim neighborhoods in Turkey often celebrate Ramadan with a longstanding Ottoman tradition, where a drummer boy walks the streets before sunrise in traditional Ottoman clothing, waking families and announcing the start of the day. The drummer is usually an appointed child from the neighborhood, and after he wakes the neighborhood with a drum called a Davul, families may start Suhoor, their morning, pre-fast meal. Understandably, one child can only cover so many streets, and there are over 20,000 appointed drummers across Turkey! 

Ritual Cleansing in Indonesia 

On the islands of Java, Sumatra, and some of the surrounding islands, it is common practice to bathe oneself in a cleansing ritual in the day prior to Ramadan. This ritual, called Padusan in the local Javanese dialect, involves bathing, preferably in a natural body of water such as a lake or spring, from head to toe to purify oneself mentally and physically for the coming month. In other parts of Indonesia, the process can vary! Minag people of West Sumatra call it Balimau, and bathe with lemon or lime, while Pangir in North Sumatra involves bathing with herbs and fragrant leaves. This purification process for Ramadan comes from a blending of Muslim celebrations in preparation for the month with the importance of water, natural springs, and local plants common in Indonesian cultures.  

Lanterns Decorate Egyptian Streets 

In perhaps one of the more well-known traditions on this list, Egyptians have been celebrating Ramadan by lighting the evening with colorful lanterns, which has been around in some form for as long as a thousand years. Said to have originated when the people of Cairo lit lanterns for the coming of their new Fatimid Caliph Al-Muʿizz li-Din Allah in 969 CE, the tradition has evolved into a celebration of Ramadan that features ornate, colorful lanterns hung up in the streets and lit each evening and into the night. While Egypt is best known for their dense populations of colorful lanterns on city streets, lanterns have spread as a symbol of celebration and faith to many other parts of the Muslim world over time.  

A Game of Deceit in Iraq 

Played most commonly in Iraq, but also across some parts of Eastern Europe, Muslim men celebrate the breaking of the fast in the evening with a game of deception called Mheibes. Gathering in large groups of anywhere from 20 to 250 or more people, the game involves two teams that take a turn hiding a ring in the hands of one player, while the other team attempts to guess who has the ring based on body language and poker faces alone. A simple, but enjoyable game, Mheibes was temporarily outlawed by ISIL in Iraq in the mid to late 2010s, but has seen a large return during Ramadan over the last few years.  

A Melting Pot of Traditions across North America 

As of 2017, 58% of Muslims in the United States and Canada were foreign-born, and understandably, they brought their own unique traditions with them! We can also see how local culture and traditions have created a sort of melting pot, combining local and longstanding values and experiences. This is most easily seen in community events, like Taco Trucks in Every Mosque, a Los Angeles community initiative partnering with local butchers and taco trucks to provide halal meals at locations of community fast breaking celebrations. This event started in 2017, and each year has grown to include more Mosques, more food trucks donating time and services, and more activities besides the food offerings, from community games to voting and vaccine drives. While this tradition is newly developing in Los Angeles, celebrations and traditions from family shopping trips to fast breaking in Times Square are taking place in their own unique ways across North America and the world.  

And there are so many more! From public religious poetry readings called Raivaru in the Maldives to Moon Watchers, who watch for the sunset and the exact time to break the fast on the last day of Ramadan in South Africa, there are unique and beloved traditions celebrating the month happening today and all month long around the world. For more information about Ramadan and Muslim celebrations, check out this list: Ramadan Mubarak! Or, Blessed Ramadan! | Main library (jcls.org)