Ramadan is known as one of the five pillars of the religion Islam, and Muslims are obliged to participate. Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is a ‘holy month of blessing’ marked by prayer, fasting and charity. The belief is that during the month of Ramadan, Allah (God) revealed the first verses of the Qur’an, which is the holy book of Islam.
During Ramadan, fasting prohibits listening to any gossip, entering any places considered sinful and speaking ill of anyone. Therefore, fasting is not just physical; it is in fact total commitment to practice self-restraint.
Fasting lasts from sunrise to sunset and the evenings after are spent with family and friends. Everyone fasting gathers with their family to enjoy evening meals, engaging in prayers and reading from the Qur’an. A typical meal when breaking a fast in the evenings is known as Iftar and would consist of traditional Middle-Eastern and North African cuisine. Dates with milk, yogurt or kushaf (mixed nuts, dried apricot, dried prunes, dried figs blended together in a water or milk) followed by soup, a heavy main course including meat, finishing with Arabic desserts and fresh juices such as amar el-din (apricot juice).
The last meal before fasting the following day is called Suhoor and this meal can be similar to a continental breakfast, consisting of eggs, foul (beans), yogurt, milk and juices – avoiding salty foods to reduce thirst during the day.
In the Middle East, poor or homeless Muslims celebrate their evening meals with community members by gathering in locations, where free food and drink is served and open to all. These gatherings are funded by the money other Muslims donate during Ramadan. Oriental sweets, desserts and candies are distributed among family, friends and anyone that is participating.
The end of Ramadan is marked with a three day feast known as Eid or Eid ul’Fitr, which means the feast that ends the period of fasting.