Bonding over food to religious fervor, glimpse into traditional Emirati Ramadan

Alyazya Alkhazraji

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Ramadan is often marked as a unifying force for Muslims around the world as we often see a wide range of nationalities and ethnicities at the dining table during Iftar.

The holy month is not only a period of religious practices but also a time for people to nurture traditions that are unique to them.

The United Arab Emirates is renowned for its rapid growth and is distinguished by its diversity, which allows Emiratis to have a unique experience during Ramadan that features both new and old traditions.

Time for charity

Religion is the focal point of Ramadan as families gather to break their fast, perform Tarawih and Qiyam al-Layl prayers as well as read the Quran. While men typically pray Tarawih at mosques in groups, women generally pray at home.

Laylat al-Qadr (night of destiny) is believed to be one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan wherein people try to bring themselves closer to God through prayers and reciting verses from the Quran.

Charity takes a different form during Ramadan with people donating money, food or clothing to the needy. A prominent act of kindness across the UAE is setting up tents or opening Majlises during Iftar to feed the less fortunate or passersby.

However, M.M.K., 61, says her experiences during Ramadan were more enriching when she was young. “We used to take lessons in Fiqh, Islamic jurisprudence, alongside our siblings after Asr prayer as well as read Quran after Fajr prayers,” she says.

M.M.K. says the younger generation may be successfully fulfilling their religious obligations while incorporating family traditions, but they are also dealing with a transformed society.

Ramadan get-togethers

With Emiratis, Ramadan cannot end without numerous gatherings. The main event of each night is a get-together, often hosted by relatives in order for everyone to break their fast collectively.

Not only do gatherings bring a large number of people, they often last longer during the night. Afra Hassan, 26, says besides spending more time with immediate family such gatherings tend to expand to extended families as well.

“Visiting family, neighbors and friends is considered an inherent part of our culture regardless of whether they happen during difficult times, out of obligation or during celebrations and months such as Ramadan,” Hassan said.

Some believe, that gatherings pacify relations between people as the ambience surrounding Ramadan nights is thought to be more welcoming. Shamma Abdulaziz, 42, said families tend to become closer and forgiving.

Ramadan get-togethers isn’t purely a religious affair but also feature food and games. Families usually stay together until Tarawih prayer is over and everyone has fulfilled their religious duties.

Women typically stay together after Iftar. Badriya Alhindaassi, 19, said she spends the evenings with her cousins mostly playing cards, sequence, Uno, and most commonly carrom, which is one of the most traditionally played games.

Modern traditions

Emirati families have always shared food with their neighbors, family and friends during Ramadan but more recently, women have picked up the habit of making creative deserts, which they likely send to friends or enjoy at home.

Another modern tradition is Iftar outings, which is often done with friends. Abdelaziz Almulla, 23, said generally, younger adults tend to have more Iftar outings, usually every few days or every week.

Young men tend to gather with their friends, often in a majlis, while young women sometimes gather at each other’s houses. Alhindaassi said men have more outings since they happen at night and women attend more in-house gatherings since they can help with preparations.

Some families also put up traditional tents inside their houses to create a Ramadan ambience and invite their friends over to share that space.

Bonding over food

An Emirati Iftar table includes a lot of traditional dishes, some of which have become typical Ramadan dishes.

Thareed (pronounced Fareed) and Harees seem to be dinner table staples at every Emirati house during the holy month.

Thareed is made of a very thin flat bread called Regag that is soaked in meat gravy, usually lamb. It is then served with meat and vegetables including, carrots, zucchini and potatoes. The dish is also made with beef or chicken.

During Ramadan, Harees is either served as the main dish or as a side dish. It is made of meat, which is slow-cooked with wheat berries. The dish can also be cooked with chicken.

Emiratis usually serve a mix of traditional desserts such as Lgeimat, Ferny, and Sagoo as well as others that are commonly served such as, Jelly and Crème Caramel.

Lgeimat is easily one of the most popular Emirati desserts, consisting of deep-fried dough that is mostly served with molasses or honey. Ferny is made of milk, ground rice and sugar. It is usually served in small separate dessert bowls.

As for drinks, Emiratis often opt for Vimto, Qamar al-Din or Tang. Parents regularly have tea or coffee followed by a traditional desserts after the main meal.