Ramadan – ‘Then & Now’ Kuwaiti style

Mariam-Joyce DSouza

A brief into how the Holy month of Ramadan is celebrated and enjoyed in this part of the world. Ramadan in Kuwait has its own set of unique customs kept alive by the people. The Kuwaiti people conjure the past with all its beautiful details – from the traditional costumes and dishes, to the special Ramadan celebrations which have a delightful effect on the little ones and the not-so-little-ones alike. And throughout the past years, these Ramadan-related rituals have been maintained to retain their inherent traditional color. I found informative article online which explained some of these customs in great detail.

Ramadan in the past & today
Like elsewhere in the Muslim world, people in Kuwait fasted during the day and prayed during the night. They would recite the Quran and were proud of the number of times they completed reciting it during the holy month. Some of them would complete reading the whole Quran six or seven times, and they spent the nights praying Taraaweeh (voluntary night prayers). Even today, the Kuwaiti people exhibit their generous nature, as they spend large sums of money in charity by serving Iftaar meals in the Masjids. During the nights of Ramadan, the markets become crowded with people, as all the shops open after prayer, and relatives and friends exchange visits.

Numerous traditional Kuwaiti practices have gone out of existence, and most of the new generation does not know anything about the customs of the past; they are now reduced to sweet memories. Among these forgotten events is the day of Greesh. This name was designated for the last day before the start of the Holy month. The family would meet for lunch before they began the 30 days of fasting/worship.

On this day, an elaborate lunch was prepared and all the family members would gather around for this meal. Even today, everywhere there is the pleasant aroma of traditional Kuwaiti food coming from the neighboring houses. Lunch is served immediately after Dhuhr (the afternoon prayer), and neighbors exchange dishes with each other minutes before lunch.
After the Dhuhr prayer, all the family members gather around a table that includes a variety of dishes that are either cooked at home, or presented by neighbors and relatives. During this family meal, people joke, reminding each other that within a few hours they would be entering the Holy month of Ramadan. Nowadays, people organize this event in the offices too – with their colleagues, to share the happiness they feel.

The cannon
Every day, children celebrate the firing of the cannon to break the fast at sunset, which is called Al-Waaridah. In the afternoon, they gather around the cannon, and when it is fired, all of them cheer with joy. This happens today too but only at the Capital Governorate HQ.

Abu Tabeelah (Man of the drum)
This was the person who would awaken people to have their Suhoor (the pre-dawn meal before daybreak) every night. I remember him staying up late at night, and moving around the neighborhood repeating God’s names to motivate people to wake up and have their Suhoor. Some people would serve him dishes like Harees and Tashreeba, and so on, until the end of Ramadan. In the end, he bid farewell to the month in a melancholic tone, saying, “Farewell, farewell Ramadan, farewell the month of fasting!” Alas, ‘Abu Tabeelah’ is no more today.

Meals in Ramadan
Kuwaiti cuisine has retained various dishes over the decades that are passed from generation to generation. The two most important among these dishes, which are found at every meal in Kuwait is Harees (made of mashed wheat with meat, to which a mixture of sugar and clarified butter and sprinkled with ground cinnamon), and Jareesh (a bit similar to Harees with one main difference – it is a savoury dish).

Another popular dish that is served at Iftaar in every household is Tashreeba which is a yeast bread cut into small pieces, with gravy containing gourd, potatoes and dry lemons from Oman. The Kuwaiti people prefer Tashreeba because it is easily made, easily digested and has a delicious taste. Special sweets are made during Ramadan.

The most popular among them is Gaymaat, which is made of milk, cardamom, butter, saffron and fermented dough cut into small bite-size balls and fried in boiling fat until they turn golden, then placed in sugar syrup or molasses. The Kuwaiti sweets are distinctive for their sweet taste and rich aroma, as they are made of fragrant and flavorful spices like cardamom, saffron, and ground cinnamon.

They also have delicious coffee, which is boiled with saffron. In the past, the Kuwaiti people used to serve special dishes in their Ramadan gatherings, particularly in the diwans that stay open till the late hours of the night called Ghabqah. However, the Ghabqah nowadays differs in its form and content from that of the past. Today, the Ghabqah is served very late, close to the time of Suhoor. The Ghabqah in the past was served not later than ten in the night, and contained popular snacks like Bajillah, Nakhi, Muhalabyah, KhubzAr-Ruqaaq and special Kuwaiti sweets like Zalabyah, Gaymaat and Ghurayyibah.

The Night of Al-Qadr
Like Muslims all over the world, the night of Al-Qadr has a special place in the hearts of the Kuwaiti people. Thousands of them long for it every year and gather in the Masjids to pray for relief from worries and woes, and to safeguard Kuwait from evil. Special preparations are made for the last ten nights of prayer.

Another distinct practice that takes place in most mosques during the blessed month of Ramadan is Ihtikaaf, where men leave everything behind, abandon the comfort they enjoy at home and reside in the mosque in order to devote and dedicate themselves for worship during the last ten nights of Ramadan. Many mosques around the country distribute the Iftaarmeal (the meal at sunset to break their fast) throughout the month and particularly during the last ten days of Ramadan.

Courtesy of the TIES Center: the TIES Center aims at empower Kuwait’s expats through social and educational services that promote a positive and productive role in society, and to facilitate opportunities for intra- and interfaith interactions that promote social solidarity. For more information, you can contact TIES at Tel: 25231015/6; Hotline: 94079777; e-mail: [email protected]

By Mariam-Joyce DSouza

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