Written by Randa Saab Smith
The holy month of Ramadan is one of THE MAIN festivities in the Islamic world. During Ramadan some 1.3 billion Muslims around the world refrain from eating and drinking from dawn until sunset, and are encouraged to read the entire Qur’an. Fasting teaches patience, humility, and spirituality, and while the spirit of Ramadan and the duties of Islam are similar for all Muslims, the Ramadan traditions are celebrated differently from one country to another. The common greeting is: “Ramadan Kareem”, ‘kareem’ is the Arabic word for ‘generous’.
In Lebanon during Ramadan the streets are decorated with Fawanees Ramadan, special traditional street lamps, and the restaurants will be wearing their ornate Ramadan wall carpets and arabesque lanterns.
It is a real celebration with folklore arts played on the streets and enjoyed by everyone. Shisha will be offered by most of the street cafés in downtown Beirut and practically everywhere else, accompanied by Lebanese coffee and tea.
Being a multi-religious country, Muslims and non-Muslims alike enjoy the month of Ramadan and have the chance to visit the country’s rich variety of tourist attractions. These include the Phoenician and Roman ruins of Baalbek, Byblos, and Tyre, and the stunning Jeita Grotto – nominated one of the wonders of the natural world. Then, to beat the heat of August, the cool mountain breezes of Aley, Bhamdoun, and Broummana, with their vibrant cafés, are a must.
Take the cable car from Jounieh to Harissa for a fascinating view of the Mediterranean and surrounding pine forests. For accommodation, luxurious hotels such as Habtoor Grand, Mövenpick Resort, Coral Beach Resort, Phoenicia, and Le Commodore have easy access to the city’s attractions.
In Jordan, with a majority of the population being Muslim, streets and houses are decorated with lights reflecting the theme of Ramadan.
The canon of Ramadan announces Maghreb and Iftar. The Jordanian Mansaf will be at its best in Ramadan, with lamb cooked in aromatic herbs, served on a bed of rice or bulgur wheat, topped with roasted almonds and pine seeds, accompanied by the tantalising Jameed sauce made from dried fermented yoghurt. Sweets such as Knafeh and Qatayef are an important part of the Iftar menu.
Restaurants and cafés have their traditional Ramadan tents ready with shisha, where Muslims and non-Muslims alike enjoy chatting with friends and drinking tea with mint leaves, or the traditional Ramadan drinks such as Jallab (made from raisins), Kamareddine (made from dried apricots), or tamarind.
In some areas you can still hear the Musaharati, a man who walks in the streets with his little tabla calling on Muslims to wake up for Suhur, an old tradition which was common in several countries in the Middle East. There are many remarkable mosques, such as the King Abdullah Mosque with its modern Islamic architecture, Al Husseini Mosque, and King Hussein Mosque, which was built by King Abdullah I in 1924 over the original AD 640 mosque erected by the second caliph of Islam.
Amman luxury hotels include the Kempinski, Le Meridien, Regency Palace, and Marriott. Spa treatments with natural herbs and Dead Sea minerals are available at many hotels. While in Amman, a visitor can enjoy visiting Jerash, one of the largest and best-preserved sites of Roman architecture. A visit to the UNESCO world heritage site Petra, one of the wonders of the world, is a must. You can also visit Wadi Rum and experience the Bedouin life. Diving and snorkelling enthusiasts will enjoy visiting the Gulf of Aqaba, which is rich with the Red Sea wonders of coral reefs and marine life including turtles and dolphins.
The Islamic history of Malaysia has created a strong bond with the Middle East along both religious and cultural lines. With a mosque on every street, including the beautifully-decorated Masjid Jama, there is no shortage of prayer locations. If you go to Malaysia with the family, visit Genting Highlands – about an hour from Kuala Lumpur – which hosts one of Malaysia’s finest theme parks. The many malls and shopping complexes are a destination in themselves with cinemas, playgrounds, and entertainment. Do not miss having one or more of the reviving massages – reflexology, Balinese, or Thai – or any of the many spa treatments. The multi-ethnic, multi-religious structure of the country makes the Muslim community tolerant of non-Muslims not fasting during Ramadan, and life in the cities during Ramadan is as it usually is during the rest of the year.
A large number of hotels such as Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Shangri-La Hotel, and Mandarin Oriental, offer comfort and luxury. The Ritz-Carlton is another central location that connects with the city’s most exclusive retail destination, Starhill Gallery, and is next door to the 92,900 sq m of retail space that is The Pavilion shopping mall. The hotel is directly connected to Feast Village, which offers a wonderfully tempting range of dining opportunities, including a huge range of halal establishments. Guests can also break their fast with a range of Malay, Asian, and Middle Eastern offerings. Traditional Malay dishes include nasi kerabu, nasi dagang, and nasi beriani, and popular drinks, such as coconut and sugar cane juices.
In Indonesia, Ramadan traditions differ from one area to another. Due to most of the population being Muslim, many restaurants may be closed during the day. Travellers who are not fasting are requested to abstain from drinking, eating, or smoking in public. However, the joyful spirit of Ramadan will be overwhelming before Maghreb and all through the evening until dawn. Before breaking the fast at Maghreb or after sunset there is a tradition of chanting and praying. Salat tarawih, which are non-obligatory evening prayers during the fasting month, are quite popular in Indonesia. As in other countries, many Indonesians prefer to break the fast with relatives, friends, or colleagues at restaurants or cafés. Traditional dishes include buffalo meat or beef, fish, and noodles. A holiday-maker can opt to stay in Jakarta or visit the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali, Sulawesi, Lombok, Flores, the Gili Islands, and Komodo, and enjoy the picturesque beaches and forests with exotic flora and fauna.
Good places to stay in Jakarta are the Four Seasons Hotel, The Park Lane, Mandarin Oriental, or Grand Hyatt, which have easy access to major shopping centres such as the high-class Plaza Indonesia, Taman Anggrek Mall, and WTC Mangga Dua. Shoppers can also experience street-side shopping, especially after Maghreb.
As a general rule, Iftar, breaking the fast, first starts with drinking water, having a couple of dates, performing the Maghreb (sunset) prayer, then having the main meal of Iftar starting with a bowl of soup and salad.
The Azan, the Maghreb (sunset) call to prayer, indicates the end of the daily fast. Generous Iftar buffets will be offered by most hotels and restaurants. In addition to Kharouf Mahshi, which is a whole stuffed lamb on a bed of rice, Ramadan’s main meal dishes include mixed grill on skewers, Oriental chicken with rice, and a large variety of vegetarian dishes such as Fattoush (stuffed vine leaves), hummus, and tabouli, as well as a choice of more than 100 dishes of mezza that Lebanese cuisine is renowned for. The tradition is to have delicious Lebanese sweets following the meal: Baklava, Kallaj Ramadan, Karabeej, to name just a few.
Celebrations after Iftar include Taraweeh, which is beautiful chanting of praise to God and his prophet (PBUH), sometimes followed by a spectacular Sufi Darawish performance. Restaurants, cafés, and meeting places will be open until dawn. Suhur is the last meal before fasting for the next day, and must be taken before dawn; it usually consists of Sahlab, a milk-based pudding with cinnamon, and a light meal.
Mosques in Lebanon
Throughout Lebanon, there is an abundance of historic mosques. In Beirut, the Al Omari Mosque, dating from the 8th century, is rich in Islamic, Crusader, and Ottoman history, and situated next to a Roman archaeological site.
A modern-age marvel is the Muhammad Al Amin Mosque, which was started by the late Rafik Al Hariri and inaugurated in 2008 in downtown Beirut. In Tripoli, many historic mosques can be experienced, such as the 13th century Mansouri Great Mosque, 14th century Khanqa Mosque, Ottoman period Hamidi Mosque, and 18th century Kabir Aali Mosque. At the historic city of Sidon, 48km south of Beirut, several mosques from the Umayyad period are well preserved and still used for prayer.