Ramadan in Lebanon: Unique in its Kind

Ramadan in Lebanon

So what is it with Ramadan in Lebanon?

Let’s take a walk…!

Walking the Alley in RamadanThe smell of traditional dishes wafts out from the windows of the houses as the hour of sunset nears by. Through the residential streets of Beirut and Tripoli, where our large communities of the Islamic faith reside, there is this subtle Ramadanexcitement emerging from the calm of tiredness of a long day of fasting.

Lentil soup boiling out the scent of cumin, Sambousek baking its dough around the melting cheese, garlic roasting in butter as chickpeas boil for the Fatteh, the chopping of fresh parsley and onions and the aroma of Sumac soaring out the promise of an invigorating Fattoush salad….and the hum of murmured prayers of the women cooking….

Soon the sun will set and the families will gather to break their long-day of fast.

Ramadan

Sun setting on Lebanon’s residents…

It’s Ramadan in Lebanon, and there is more to tell, for in our country it’s different in many aspects.

First, for my lovely readers of the western world, let me tell you what is Ramadan.


Ramadan

Ramadan

Coffee Iftar RamadanThe holiest month of Islam, and probably the most important in its religious traditions, Ramadan is a month of adherence to its core values, and of fasting from sunrise to sunset, with total abstinence of food and drink, even water.

That strong test of will aims to connect them to the plights of the poor, humbles them in their humanity so to feed their souls instead, open their hearts to forgive and be forgiven, and thrive to behave righteously; all with the main purpose of attaining righteousness.

With the fasting, prayers intensify and charitable deeds increase.

For thirty days, from the dusk after the appearance at eve of the Crescent Moon on the ninth month of the Islamic Hijreh Calendar, our Muslim communities are on devoted observance.

Ramadan in Lebanon

Lebanese Streets decorated for Ramadan

They daily commemoration with fasting culminates with family or social gathering at sunset with the Iftar meal that breaks their fasting.

The second meal of the day, which follows hours later, is an occasion of family and social celebrations, many at a large scale hosted in restaurants and event venues.

These are our famous Ramadan Dinners in Lebanon, which are enjoyed nationwide in festivities.


A Month of Old and New Traditions


I do want to mention two of the most notable century-old traditions of Ramadan because of their interesting particularities.

Istibenett Ramadan

The start of Ramadan follows a couple of days of expectation as the Muslims await an official announcement of the date, which ensues upon the appearance of the Crescent Moon.

However, many families in Beirut still adhere to the tradition of sighting the moon as their ancestors did.

Moon Sighting Ramadan

Istibenett Ramadan in Beirut

They take to the parks and the streets, late in the evening, their eyes in the darkening sky, the mood in excitement, the talks of tales and history on-going, as they wait to witness the emergence of the Crescent and the start of their holiest month.

A tradition dating since the onset of the Islam nations, Istibenett Ramadan is assumed with honor and joy, as many keep the tradition alive in their families for generations.

The Call for Soohoor

Ramadan CallerAnother most notable old-century traditions, dating back to the Ottoman rule, comes with the Soohoor, the pre-fasting meal consumed at dusk just before the first of their 5 daily prayers.

An hour or so before sunrise, a Moossaharati, or Ramadan Soohoor caller, roams the streets with a drummer, calling in a chanting tone the Muslims to wake up for their Soohoor.

I still have vivid memories about it, when, in my early childhood in Tripoli, the almost musical sound of the reiterating call, followed by the three hits on the drummer, resonated through the dark residential streets, and under my bedroom’s balcony.Ramadan Traditional Caller

It would then fade away with the Moosaharati continuing his round. Soon after, chanting voices would resonate throughout the city from the various Mosques, calling for the morning prayer.

I wonder if this tradition is still ongoing in Tripoli as it used to be. The war has crippled many of such customs, although various remote villages and cities still enjoy their Moossaharati.

Ramadan Hakawati

Another Ramadan tradition, which is fading away unfortunately: The Hakawati, or Story Teller, entertains people after their meals in Tripoli with famous legends and tales told in poetic tone. Very few Hakawatis remain…


Ramadan in Lebanon: Fasting & Celebrating


Despite the physical strain, specially on the laborers and those working on the streets, nothing changes outside during the day: shops open their normal working hours, people assume their usual work schedule or do their errands, students attend their schools or universities, and traffic fill the streets.

 

Ramadan Celebration in Lebanon

Ramadan Parade Celebration in Lebanon

Unlike most other countries with Ramadan’s observance, Ramadan fasting in Lebanon remains a personal endeavor, tied nonetheless with one’s religious community, yet not imposed on non-Muslims or others.

Restaurants are open and serve their usual three meals a day, with the added festivities of the Ramadan Dinner at night, and, depending on the regions, the special fast-breaking meal or Iftar.

Ramadan TV Talk Show

A Ramadan TV Talk Show broadcasts every night from Downtown Beirut for a month, entertaining viewers in their homes and on the street.

Ramadan Sweet StoreWhat is most notable daily is certainly the hyper-mood in the Lebanese Sweet stores and bakeries late afternoon and through the evenings, as the demands on local desserts and pastries increase substantially during Ramadan, specially for dinner celebrations.

Ramadan Parade

Among new Ramadan Traditions: A Ramadan Parade with street performances, preceding Ramadan.

Dinner events in major restaurants are plenty in Lebanon during Ramadan, gathering families, friends and acquaintances of all religions.

Ramadan Dinners and Iftars have long been good occasions, which have become a custom, for companies to host annual events, and organizations to host fundraising ones.

Iftar is also an occasion for people to receive at homes a social gathering, be it gender-mixed or by gender.

Like in Christmas, the Lebanese President hosts also a traditional and formal Ramadan dinner celebration at the Presidential Palace for a large number of community leaders, politicians, religious figures, and diplomats.

ramadan beirut

Downtown Beirut Square, centered by a traditional Ramadan Fanous (Lamp)

In Lebanon, we share our celebrations and respect others’. We are a dynamic society weaved in multi-denominations and multi-religions since the onset of times.

We take care of each others, and we love being a tight variety that makes our country wealthy in its diversity and related traditions and celebrations.

No entities impose on the others their rites and ideologies. Instead, we accept and respect, with kindness and love, like a big happy family, whatever our differences.

Ramadan FanousIn that, we are special; a country unique in its kind, nestled in the Middle-East among different nations of not as open stance and heart as ours.

It is with the same bond and along the same line of our principles that Ramadan is observed in Lebanon on faith, forgiveness, and charity, and shared celebrations.

The traditional greeting “Ramadan Kareem”, is not only expressed among the Muslims, but by all Lebanese of other religions to Muslims.


Ramadan Meals and Food


Soohoor: The Pre-fasting Meal

The Soohoor Meal is meant to keep the Muslims sustained for at least a good part of the day.

Ramadan Fava beans

Mashed Fava Beans (Foul Mdammas)

It is usually a breakfast meal that could be composed of milk and/or juice, with any or some of the following breakfast dishes:

Omelets, Rice Porridge with Dates, Shankleesh with diced tomatoes and onions, Mashed Fava Beans (Foul Mdammas), Man’oush Thyme Bread

 

Iftar: Breaking the Fasting

Lebanese Iftar in Ramadan

Iftar, simple or elaborate, its aim is to break a long day of fasting.

It typically starts with a powerfully vitamin-vitalized juice of Licorice, Jellab (grape molasses) or Apricot Nectar to make up for the loss of energy and ready the stomach to gradually receive more consistent food.

Ramadan Iftar Juices

Ramadan juices ready for iftar buyers

Lebanese Fruit Juices, ready to serve buyers at Iftar time.

  • The juice is followed by Dried Fruits and/or Dates, and healthy Lebanese food bites, like Sambousek Cheese and Fattayer Spinach.
  • A rich fresh salad, like Fattoush, comes in to invigorate the body with vitamins;
  • A thick soup of lentils, or similar, fills the stomach with relieving nutrients,
  • A more consistent dish, like Fatteh dish of Chickpeas and Yogurt, completes the meal, and…
  • A dessert of Lebanese pastry or sweet concludes it.

 

 The Lebanese Cuisine Reigns at The Iftar!
Iftar Ramadan

An Iftar table

Iftar is usually four freshly prepared courses, but can be more with an added array of Mezza dishes. The size of the menu depends on how modest or large the gathering is.

Families being large in Lebanon, it is common for relatives to share the 3o days of Iftar, by taking turns in cooking and hosting, adding as such a joyful mood of expectation to meet and share, and enjoying different Iftar experiences.

Ramadan Dinners 

Ramadan Dinner in restaurant

RamadanDepending on the gathering, Ramadan Dinner Menus range from four courses to a large variety of dishes enjoyed for two to three hours with friends and relatives or in restaurants and events.

While appetizers and Mezza dishes could be included like with the Iftar, salads and side dishes come in varieties, and the main dishes are certainly more festive and more consistent:

Lebanon celebrates Ramadan

A Ramadan Dinner, entertained by a Lebanese Pop Singer.

Kabseh Lamb in rich Rice, Maqloobeh Eggplant, a rich platter of various Grilled Meats, Stuffed Lamb, Ouzeh Lamb, Lebanese Chicken and Rice, Freekeh Roasted Lamb, Mansaf, Samke Harra Fish, and so on.

There is no limitation or restriction on the chosen dishes as long as it is nutritiously consistent.

The best Lebanese pastries top the menus of the Ramadan dinner social and corporate events: Knefeh, Mafroukeh, Halawet El-Jebn, Aysh El-Saraya, and Znoud el-Sit are some notable examples.

Lebanese Cultural Heritage

For a more cozy or homey dinner, there could be one of the above or simpler like the Karabeej with light ashta on the side, our so popular Maamoul of various kind, the Baklawa, Basbouseh, and so on.

Ramadan Sweet rush

 

Attyef Ramadan

Attayef Ramadan

One thing for sure, our Traditional pastry stores work the most during the Ramadan month, and most in demands are the famous traditional Kattayef and the Maamoul.


Ramadan ends with the major annual celebration of the Eid al-Fitr, that Lebanese Muslims celebrate like many other communities do: new clothes, firecrackers, visiting each others with gifts and sweets, and more dinner events.


I take this occasion to wish a Ramadan Kareem of peace and shared love to my countrywomen and countrymen of the Islamic faith. 

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