Ramadan in Pakistan
by: Shazia Bashir
The excitement starts when people first catch sight of the Ramadan moon. There is a hustle and bustle in the streets deep into the night as people start preparing for the month of fasting by stocking up on essentials. The men head to the mosque for Taraweeh prayers, while the women start preparing the Sehri (pre-dawn) meal.
To wake everyone up for Sehri a man tours our neighbourhood before dawn, banging on an empty tin. The noise is loud enough to rouse even the sleepiest heads. The tin he uses is a cheap replacement for the more traditional drum. Interestingly, our local 'drummer' is a Christian, and on Eid day the neighbourhood shows its appreciation of his service by giving him gifts of money and food.
Songs at Sehri
The mosques join the effort by broadcasting nasheeds (Islamic songs) across the city, and count down the minutes towards the end of Sehri time. Most Pakistanis prefer something substantial for breakfast, such as paratha (buttery flaky flat bread) eaten with a curried dish of their choice. Jalebis (crisp fried orange spirals soaked in sugar syrup) in milk are also a favourite. Whatever the choice of breakfast, it is always followed by tea.
If you look out of the window at Sehri you will see lights on in every house, and people already going about their business. Food shops and restaurants generally open during Sehri time then close for the day, only re-opening around Iftari (meal to break the fast) at sunset.
Charity and Prayers
In Ramadan Allah showers us with many blessings, and even the smallest of good deeds can reap great rewards. During Ramadan we also remember people who live a hand-to-mouth existence, never knowing whether they'll have enough food for the next meal. This is why it is also called the month of charity.
During the days people recite the Qur'an and pray extra prayers. Normal working hours change so that people go to work earlier than normal in order to return in time for Iftari. Schoolchildren love Ramadan because classes finish by 12.30 giving them the rest of the day off.
Plenty of Pakoras
Preparations for the evening's Iftari meal begin as early as mid-day. Every home is sure to have pakoras (fried vegetable fritters) to open the fast - in fact Iftari would be incomplete without them! People also enjoy fruit chaat (spiced fruit salad) dhai bhaley (spicy dumplings in yoghurt), and samosas are very popular with everyone.
Restaurants also have special menus for Sehri and Iftari, so many people go out to eat during Ramadan. After the Iftari meal the men go to pray Taraweeh prayers at the mosques, while women might gather in a local house to pray together. Everyone returns home to finish the day with tea.
Night of the Moon
So eventually the days of Ramadan pass, taking their blessings with them. On the last night of Ramadan, when the new moon is sighted on 'Chaand Raat' (Night of the Moon) the hustle and bustle of Eid begins. Eid ul-Fitr is also called Choti Eid (Small Eid) or meethi Eid (Sweet Eid) as it is shorter than Eid al-Adha and is associated with many sweet dishes.
Decorated in multicoloured lights, the shops are open all night, as everyone goes out to buy new clothes and shoes for Eid. The atmosphere is excited and happy as girls choose glass bangles to match their outfits. That night the women and girls decorate their hands with henna (mehndi) in intricate designs before going to bed.
The family's Eid clothes are ironed and laid out ready for the morning. Men and women both wear the traditional shalwar kameez. Men often dress in white, while the women and girls prefer bright colours. Eid clothes are an essential part of the celebration, and little girls might wear a colourful lengha or garaara (tunic top with wide skirt, or wide-legged trousers) -
Early on Eid morning little children can be seen criss-crossing the neighbourhood carrying bowls of sevian (sweet vermicelli cooked in milk with nuts and cardamom) for their neighbours, greeting everyone with "Eid Mubarak!"
Everyone is awake early for Fajr, and bathe and change into their new clothes ready for Eid prayers. Before going to pray the family sits down to a traditional Pakistani Eid breakfast of sevian. Eid prayers are often held in the open, and white tents are set up to take the extra crowds.
After prayers people visit their neighbours, perhaps sitting down to another bowl of sevian. The youngsters gather around the elders to receive their "Eidi" (a traditional gift of money). Eidi is also given by brothers to their younger sisters of whatever age. Children can accumulate an impressive amount on Eid!
Extended families get together for Eid lunch which is a huge feast. Favourite dishes vary from family to family but might include Biryani (spicy rice with meat), Chicken bhuna, lamb kebabs, rasmalai (sweet milky dish), mithai (sweets), kheer (sweet rice dessert) and Eid cakes.
The day after Eid the Eid Millun parties begin in schools, colleges and places of work. Pakistanis enjoy Eid so much that they stretch out the celebration with these parties, giving them another excuse to eat delicious food with friends and colleagues.
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