Article in brief: the author reminiscences about the traditions of Ramadan during his childhood.
My seven-year-old Mohammad will fast for the first time this year. The first fasting experience is usually very special, the proud parents celebrating their child’s strength for getting through it. I asked him whether he was serious about it, and he answered with great confidence that he will fast for the entire month, but at the same time, he could not offer me a clear explanation for why he was so eager and determined to fast. Regardless of his motives, this Ramadan will be a special one for us and his daring attempt is one that we will encourage, especially since it will be during the summer.
I personally can’t remember at which age I fasted for the first time, but the memories and the events of that Ramadan are forever engraved in my mind. I still remember how proud I was for fasting and for my ability to withstand hunger and thirst together with my friends. They constantly asked me to stick my tongue out to prove that it was dry. It seems funny, but this was the only way to prove that I was actually fasting to them.
As the time for Iftar came closer and the smell of food spread across the house, and it became extremely difficult for me to bear the hunger, I asked my mother a great number of times, “At what time do we break the fast?” The answer to my question remained unchanged, asking me to be patient, for the prayer is soon to come. A smile spreads across my face whenever I remember this as I realize how tenacious and impatient I was, and the only way to get rid of me and my questions was to send me to our neighbors’ houses, carrying to them plates of my mother’s cooking.
My mother may have been relieved to have me and my questions out of her way, but she surely didn’t distract me from being hungry – quite the contrary, she only made me hungrier. How wouldn’t I be, when I held in my hands exquisite dishes of Harees, Threed, and Luqaimat. This exchange of food was one of the most upheld habits during the month of Ramadan.
The dishes did not differ from house to house but every house was renowned for a specific dish, and my mom was famous for her Harees, so it was necessary to pass it along to the others as much as possible. The plates we served the food in bore a special mark that my grandmother (God have mercy on her soul) had put on the plates. This was something that I did not understand until much later. My much-missed grandmother had aimed to mark the plates so they wouldn’t be confused with everybody else’s similar plates.
The passing of food plates was not restricted to the houses, but extended to the nearby mosque to contribute in the group Iftar, where the men gathered to break the fast together. After the prayers, we came back with our plates, getting ready for a renewed journey the following day.
As night fell, the fun and the games began, and we would no longer be afraid to venture outside the house because of the demons and dark spirit we heard about in stories, for they did not go out during the month of Ramadan and there was no way to get hurt. This feeling of security fueled our desire to run through the village’s dark old alleys without a hint of fear or hesitation. For the adults, visiting one another, reading the Quran, and praying was far more important than their night-time activities.
As midnight approached, we had to go back home to have our Suhoor and go to bed in preparation of another day of fasting. The food was very much like that of Iftar, but my mother always insisted that we drink a lot of water to avoid feeling thirsty the next morning.
My childhood passed so quickly but its memories are forever engraved in my mind. And as the month of Ramadan begins, I find great pleasure in sharing these memories with my children, but at the same time, I feel a little sad that much of our lovely Ramadan traditions are dying out.
Our plates are no longer adorned with a special mark, and our children no longer carry plates of food to neighbors’ houses. Plastic plates are now used instead of the specially marked ones, while maids go around the neighborhood, instead of children, passing out the plates of food. The group Iftar in mosques is now restricted to some of the elderly and the workers, while the young choose instead to have their meal at hotels or Ramadan tents. Even the traditional games are far gone, substituted by iPads and smart phones.
Our lives have changed dramatically and quickly throughout the region’s economic boom, but with it we lost a number of lovely traditions that added a charming ambiance to this special month. Ramadan is an important month, and we should take care to act accordingly. It’s not just about the fast, but much more than that: Ramadan is the month of forgiveness and bonding, the month of taming the soul. We should experience it to its last spiritual and moral details so we can get through it with positive memories and be able to make a change, deep within ourselves.
Abdulla holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Master’s in Business Administration. His abstract passion for history and literature with a hint of photography adds to his noble enduring quality. Abdulla enjoys visiting museums, art exhibitions and likes to spend his spare time in the outdoors. His column “Emirati Reflections” is a mixture of stories from the past and insights of the present, which blend together and formulate his understanding of the UAE’s culture.