Cleric to child, Ramadan spirit binds them all

By Abu Zafar Adil Azmi, IANS
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

NEW DELHI - From dawn to dusk and dusk to dawn, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is a time for nurturing piety. Mosques fill with worshippers. The muezzin’s call of ‘adhan’ and sirens signal the starting and breaking of fast. Markets in Muslim dominated areas in India overflow in the evenings, as people get busy feasting.

When the sound of a siren is heard in Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid area - the mosque is one of Asia’s largest and was built in the 17th century by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan - people begin the first fast. They go to the neighbourhood mosque as soon as they hear the adhan.

This year, a child, holding his father’s fingers, came to the mosque. They woke up four hours earlier than usual along with others. Although the child’s mother told him he was too young to fast, he did not listen.

The spirituality of the occasion is overwhelming.

Syed Affaf Qadri Nadvi, an Islamic cleric of Delhi, explains that Ramadan is the name of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. “It is the holy month because the Quran was revealed during Ramadan. Fasting is compulsory for Muslims in this month. It begins after the sighting of the crescent moon.”

When the sun sets, it is time for iftar, the evening meal.

In Delhi, there are different environments in various dominantly Muslim areas like Jama Masjid, Okhla, Jamia Nagar and Seelampur.

Mohammad Anis Siddiqui, an 80-year-old retired teacher, told an IANS correspondent: “I’ve been listening to the voices of sirens in Delhi since 1955.” Sometimes, he says, the sirens were not enough to get people out of bed, so other means are employed.

“Sometimes announcements are made through mosques and at some places some people voluntarily walk to the homes in an area and announce ‘This is dawn, this is the time to eat sehar. At some places people sing ‘naat’ from the mosque’s loudspeaker to wake up people.”

India being a huge country, dawn arrives an hour earlier in the east. This is why the time of iftar and sehar in West Bengal and Assam is more than one hour earlier than in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

India has a population of over 140 million Muslims - the third largest after Indonesia and Pakistan - and they are spread across the country.

“In the past, sewai (vermicelli), a special sweet prepared from wheat, was made by hand in northern India. But now there is no handmade sewai or jaggery,” said Abdul Qayyum, a 70-year-old farmer from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh.

Compared to life in the villages, people from the cities go to sleep late at night. During Ramadan they stay up even later. So some take the sehar meal late at night and then sleep in the morning.

Traditional foods vary around the country. In some parts of northern India like Azamgarh, Allahabad, Lucknow and Kanpur, a liquid mixture of ground coconut, cashew nut and almond is very common.

In schools with Muslim majorities, schedules are changed. After the ‘fajr’ prayer before sunrise, Muslim neighbourhoods fall silent. As soon as the afternoon is over, shops open and traffic gets jammed. The iftar markets draw huge crowds.

Mohammad Sajid, a student of philosophy at Jamia Millia Islamia here, says: “It seems Ramadan is a month of eating and drinking. Earlier there weren’t so many food items, nor as many iftar as today.”

In Tamil Nadu and parts of Kerala, mosques invite people to come for iftar and neighbours may donate unique cooked items.

Abdul Jaleel, a political activist from Kerala, said people considered it an honour to be allowed to volunteer to arrange the iftar in their local mosque.

The month of Ramadan spirit ends with Eid festivities.

(8.09.2010-Abu Zafar Adil Azmi can be contacted at

Filed under: Religion

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