The Almost Tangible Spirit of Ramadan

From Communal breaking of fast, to ancient open markets filled with buyers and buzzing with sounds to after Iftar outdoor games played with the enthusiasm of the Mondial, and the qussakhoun (story tellers) entertaining customers of coffee houses during the evenings, to children trick or treating in their neighbourhoods… all these are the colours of Ramadan’s cultural traditions in Iraq. Over there, the Holy month is one filled with contemplation and after Iftar fun.

In yesterday’s post (on this link) I was telling you about the classic Iraqi cuisine and its Ramadan foods, but my conversation with professor Nawal Nasrallah did not stop there. Because as everywhere else, Ramadan in Iraq is too way more than just the food. In Iraq, the Holy month is one filled with contemplation done through observing the fast, praying and reading the Quran. Where people focus their energies on worship and on their spiritual side, and many would even devote most of the evening for prayer at the mosque. There too, most people observe the fast, contemplate, pray and devote their month to worship. With that said, Ramadan in Iraq is a month of celebration, as Ramadan is to all Muslims. It is a month filled with fun.

Professor Nawal described to me some of the beautiful Ramadan traditions in Iraq, many of which take place at the chaikhana (literally meaning teahouse) and referring to the traditional coffee house that is patronized by males only. She said: “There, the fun doubles during Ramadan when a storyteller (qussakhoun) entertains customers with exciting stories of romance and heroism. In addition, a very popular ring game, mheibis, is often played by teams from different neighbourhoods. Men would divide into two parties, covering their hands with a blanket. The ring is put in the hand of one of the participants and the other party has to guess in whose hand the ring is. One of them would stand up and rule out the empty hands by asking them to open them up, thus until guessing is narrowed down to the hand that has the ring. The penalty is a tray of baklawa and zlabya bought by the losing party to be shared by all.” The children too have fun enjoying the century old tradition of Majena, which is a kind of trick or treating they do for sweets and money.

The children would go from door to door in their neighbourhood singing:

ماجينة ياماجينة           حلّ الجيس وانطبنا

تنطونا لو ننطيكم ؟           بيت مكّة نودّيكم

ياهل السطوح                تنطونا لو نروح ؟


Translated as,“Majena ya majeena, loosen your purse and give us some of what you have.Will you give us or shall we give you? We’ll take you to Mecca if you do so. You people on the roofs, are you giving us anything, or shall we leave? ” While some houses will give the children candies and sometimes money, other times all they get is a bucket of water poured on them by the roof people, and all they can do in return is to scurry away saying:

 طشّوا علينا الماي أ هل الفُكُر

طشّوا علينا الماي أ هل الفُكُر


Translated as, “Oh, we’ve been drenched in water!! Oh, the stingy ones, they drenched us in water!!”


Communal breaking of the fast

Communal breaking of the fast is very common in Iraq. “Ramadan is about Unity, not just with the immediate and extended family, but also with all other Muslims. Therefore, it is very common to see such gatherings of men to break fast together as a community.” says Professor Nasrallah. These are just some of the colours of Ramadan in Iraq, but ones that actually give the Holy month its unique spirit, that which makes people anticipate and eagerly wait for celebrating this month every year.




Meet Professor Nawal Nasrallah

She is the published author of Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine, a new edition of which has just been released.

Professor Nawal is also the author of the food blog “In My Iraqi Kitchen” in which she writes about the Iraqi cuisine across the centuries, from Mesopotamian times, through medieval, and to the present. A blog that is really worth exploring, especially for those who are serious about their food knowledge, as Iraqi cuisine is one through which you understand so many other cuisines, especially the origin of recipes.

All the information and pictures (unless otherwise indicated) are provided by Professor Nawal Nasrallah and are her property. They are published on this blog with her permission. Please do not copy or use them without her permission.

Food For Thought – One’s Biggest Challenge is Always The Self.

I hope you have enjoyed exploring what the Iraqi people do in Ramadan for fun. I would love to hear your thoughts, do let me know about your country’s fun Ramadan Traditions… Do you have specific activities that become especially famous during Ramadan?

The world is beautiful, all its people are beautiful, all cultures equally important, and all the same in the end – all out there for us to explore…
Ramadan Kareem

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