Ramadan: Lost in tradition but regained in memories

Ramadan: Lost in tradition but regained in memories

Emiratis recall Ramadan practices of a time when oil reserves were not discovered, when there were no skyscrapers

By Silvia Radan/staff Reporter

Published: Mon 22 Jun 2015, 12:37 AM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:16 PM

Hamed Al Kharoosi and his friends gather to keep tradition of ending the fast together alive. — Supplied photo

Abu Dhabi - Long ago, when there were no skyscrapers on the shores of Arabia and oil reserves were yet to be discovered, Emiratis used to prepare for Ramadan well before the holy month started.

Two weeks in advance or from the blessing night of mid Shaaban, the month before Ramadan in Hijri calendar, people used to go for shopping at the nearest souk, to secure foodstuff they need during the fasting month.

Rice, flour, sugar, oil, dates and spices were mostly on the shopping list, as most fresh produce, such as yogurt and meat, were home produced.

Every morning during Ramadan, women used to gather in the biggest house of the neighbourhood, usually belonging to an elder relative, to grind barly and grains for baking the traditional Emirati thin bread popularly used for Iftar.

“Ramadan today is not very different than in the old days, but the lifestyle is different,” said Hamad Al Kharoosi, an Emirati from Al Ain.

“I remember when I was a kid, people used to be much closer to each other; not just family members, but neighbours too used to gather every evening and give their time to one another. This togetherness is the most important tradition of Ramadan,” he added.

And yet, the get together time is what is lost nowadays in Ramadan, in his opinion.

From the capital city to remote villages of Abu Dhabi emirate, people still erect tents to receive guests, friends and relatives during Ramadan, but they are mostly behind closed gates of the house.

Traditionally, any passer-by would be welcomed to join in the folk gathered in the tent, being offered refreshing drinks, Arabic coffee and food, his visit being considered a blessing.

“Life has changed now. You may not even see your next door neighbour during Ramadan, as people are always busy with other things. In the night, after Iftar, young men tend to go out for shisha, old men sit by themselves at home and women usually watch TV,” said Hamed.

Another lost ancient tradition is the announcement of Ramadan, which used to be made through the sighting of the crescent.

The shaikh or wali  of the village assigne a man with sharp eyesight to observe the moon. The “spotter” used to climb the highest mountain or sand dune at dusk and tried to spot the new moon. If the crescent could be seen, Ramadan would begin the following morning.

That same evening, villagers would fire bullets or set bonfires so near-by communities know fasting starts the next day.

A messenger was also sent to other, further locations to inform about the advent of Ramadan.

“Observing the new moon is done with high tech telescopes nowadays, which are far more accurate than the human eye,” mentioned Mariam Al Marzouei, an Emirati from Abu Dhabi.

“I remember my grandmother telling us stories of Ramadan from when she was young. At suhour, which is the last meal of the day just before sunrise, there used to be one man — they used to call him the drummer— a person who was in charge of waking people up to have their light meal before sunrise.”

“He would ran through the village, banging his drum and shouting at people to wake up. For doing this job he would be rewarded with food, usually dates or rice, or sometimes money.”

The mosques, which are now in every neighbourhood, call to prayers and the modern alarm clocks have changed all that.

One Ramadan tradition that remains unchanged till today is charity. Just as it used to be in the old days, wealthier families continues to help out the less fortunate.

According to Mariam, this is the idea behind the big free Iftar tents, set by Red Crescent all over the country, offering a free Iftar meal to anyone coming in.

In residential areas, Emirati families also distribute free Iftar meals outside their homes just before the time to end the fast approaches.

Harees, fareed, thareed, khabees, hanfroush, makbous and mahmar — mostly rice and stew style cooking — are among the most popular local Emirati dishes during the holly month. -silvia@khaleejtimes.com

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