Hello friends! My name is Joy Sun Bear, and as you may have guessed, I’m a sun bear from the island of Sumatra in West Indonesia. Today I want to share with you about celebrating Ramadan in Iran! In my home country there are many Muslims, people who are followers of the religion called Islam. Islam is around 1,400 years old and began with a man who is now called the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Islam’s holy book is called the Quran, and it is 114 chapters long! A holy book is full of traditions, rules and guidance to help followers of that religion live a healthy life and have a positive impact on the world.
In Iran, where my friends Ali and Bahar live, most of the people are Muslim. Ali and Bahar are part of a family that follows the traditions in the Quran as closely as they can. The biggest tradition happens every year in the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, and is called Ramadan (pronounced Ram-eh-zan in Iran). Ramadan lasts 29-30 days, and because the Islamic calendar has less days than the western calendar, only 354 instead of 365, Ramadan happens earlier each year, according to the western calendar. This year it started on June 5th. Ramadan is a tradition cherished by Muslims around the world, and many look forward to it each year.
I came back to Iran to stay with my friends for a few days and learn more about this fascinating time with them. They were happy to see me, and so was their mom and aunt, and everyone made sure to say hello (salam) when I arrived. During Ramadan, Muslims are fasting – that is, not eating or drinking – during the daytime, from when the sun rises until when it sets. There are some exceptions like young kids, pregnant women, and people dealing with certain illnesses. I got to Ali and Bahar’s home in the afternoon, so everyone was still fasting, otherwise they would have surely handed me more tea than I can drink!
Muslims fast during Ramadan for many reasons, including to clean out the spirit, habits and the body, practice gratitude for what they have, and to leave time to focus on performing Thawab. Thawab are good deeds, charity, or pious deeds that serve Islam, and Muslims believe these deeds earn God’s gratitude. The Arabic word for God is Allah, this means that anyone who prays in Arabic, no matter what religion they follow, will pray to Allah, or God. Muslims have places of worship called mosques where they gather for religious services and prayer. During Ramadan, families will go to the mosque together to pray.
In the evening, after the sun goes down, we had Iftar, a special meal to break the fast. Iftar is a modest meal, without a lot of heavy or sweet food, and families love to get together to celebrate Iftar together. Sometimes Iftar is served at a local mosque, but lots of families will also gather at home and wait to hear the Moazzinn, a person calling out or singing over a loudspeaker, to call out the Maghrib, the evening prayer. The night I arrived, we had a flatbread called naan (pronounced noon) with dates, cucumbers and feta cheese. Yum! They also served tea, or chai, with rosewater in it.
During Ramadan in Iran, there is a special energy in the air. People are more focused on taking care of their spirit, helping others, and being kind. Crime drops a lot during the month of Ramadan, and people spend more time praying, doing charity, and trying to break old bad habits or create new good ones. For Muslims, it gives a feeling similar to what Christians feel during the Christmas season, a time of peace, joy, and goodwill toward others.
All this peace does not come easily though. It takes a lot of effort and awareness from each person. Ramadan requires sacrifice – not having or doing something any more – that can be difficult. People who are used to eating certain things, smoking, or being angry toward others have to try really hard to set aside those habits to try and be their best selves during Ramadan. The fasting during the day can be especially difficult this year since Ramadan happens in the summer and the days are extra long! Ali’s stomach was growling just before we had Iftar, and I could tell he was very hungry, but he didn’t complain. He just waited patiently, and when it was time to eat he ate slowly, appreciating each bite he took!
After Iftar, the family started getting ready to go out for the evening. The nights of Ramadan are famous for how busy they are, especially when Ramadan happens during the warm summer months. People go outside and gather in parks to mingle, play games, talk to priests, and eat ice cream! This is a big deal in Iran, especially in the capital city of Tehran, where lots of people gather at Milad tower every night during Ramadan for games, crafts, shows and socialising. Before we left, Bahar gathered together coins from around the house to take and give away as Zakat (charity) to help people who were less fortunate than she was. How thoughtful!
Speaking of nights, it is surprising to find out what’s open late during Ramadan in Iran. Restaurants close during the day, since most people are fasting, then open again at night to huge crowds of families! Shops that serve ice cream are busier than ever because all the kids want to have a special treat for being patient fasters all day. Gyms and pools are open late also. Some people are up all night, eating something small before going to bed just before the sun rises. Below is a great video by Iran Program PressTV from Youtube.com that talks about the beautiful nights of Ramadan in Tehran.
When Ramadan is complete, everyone’s schedule will go back to normal, but hopefully they’ll leave some of their bad habits behind. Families will get together again for a special holiday called “Eid-ul-Fitr”, sometimes just called Eid (pronounced aid). Eid will include special prayers and meals, and many families will throw parties and give gifts to one another.
In the end, Muslims want to finish Ramadan feeling lighter and more connected with themselves, with more good habits like being grateful for what they have, behaving better, and doing good things for others. I think this is a fantastic tradition, and although not everyone will want to fast, I think the rest of us all over the world can learn from Ramadan about trying to make ourselves better people, or in my case, a better sun bear!
If you would like to learn more about Ramadan and how it is celebrated around the world, click here for a great list of books via Colours of Us. You can find even more ideas in our Ramadan with Kids series and Pinterest board!
To learn more about Iran and how I met my friends Ali and Bahar, check out my travel adventures by clicking on the links below from my website:
- Salam and Good Evening
- Happy Nowruz! (Persian New Year)
- Food, Culture and Education in Iran
- Hospitality and Helping Iran
Ramadan Mubarak friends!
-Joy Sun Bear