Like millions of other Muslims around the world, people in Pakistan observe the month of Ramadan with traditional fervour and zeal.
With millions of Muslims in the country who do not eat from sunrise to sunset, with the exception of those who are exempt for certain reasons, Pakistan is one of the countries where citizens, even the exempt ones, are not allowed to eat in public.
Restaurants usually remain closed during the daytime until before the Maghrib (sunset) prayer, except at the places frequented by travellers or sick people, like hotels, train stations, or inter-city bus stops.
Keeping in mind the tenets of Islam, people also demonstrate their generosity by offering free iftars to the needy.
People cherish Ramadan and relish everything about the holy month, from suhoor meals to iftar and from family get-togethers to helping those who are in need.
As for their eating rituals, Pakistani Muslims usually break their fast with dates and fresh drinks before dinner.
The most traditional suhoor, known there as sehri, includes the locally made fine noodles called pheni, while a popular iftar drink includes aromatic flower extract syrups called sharbat.
Ramadan is the month of strengthening social ties among all Muslims. In Pakistan, Ramadan is an occasion when family and friends get together to spend quality time and revive the richest traditions of their culture. Families and friends, who are usually busy with their daily lives and mundane chores, invite each other over for iftar dinners, making it an opportunity for families and friends to socialise and reunite.
Mosques display a festive aura as people illuminate them with decorative lights on walls and minarets. Courtyards of mosques are filled with worshippers who flock for congregational prayers of Ishaa, which are followed by Tarawih and Tahajjud prayers. Religious leaders preach special sermons during the whole month. Recitation of the entire Quran during Tarawih prayers is a ritual at every mosque. During the last 10 days of the holy month, people observe Itekaab, which is a kind of meditation/contemplation and an effort to please God, leaving all mundane chores aside.
Women at home prepare traditional special cuisine such as chicken tikka, kebab, biryani, keema karela, pakora, and fruit salad, to name a few. While mothers are busy making food in their kitchens, young girls remain at the iftar tables to help prepare the food. It gets more festive for the young members of the family to pop into the kitchen and see what is being cooked for them. The most admired dish is pakora, a fried mixture made up of gram lentil flour, potatoes, and onions. Pakora fruit chaats, dates, special rose syrup drink, and channa chaat, a chickpea salad, are popular fast-breaking items at iftar tables. Regular meals at iftar tables include biryani, spicy rice with meat, chicken khorma, a gravy dish, and haleem, a slow-cooked stew of meat and meat balls. people also feast on food brought from street stalls. Before the Maghrib prayer, Mosque’s courtyards are filled with people who have come to pray and break their fast. Communal meals are served to feed the hungry and poor families of the locality.
During fasting, most restaurants remain closed and are reopened at iftar time. However, businesses function as normal. Opening and closing hours of business and offices are adjusted accordingly. For foreigners, hotels have special arrangements and food is available for them at all times. Shops are usually remained open until late in the night. Drummers roam streets and bang their instruments to announce the pre-dawn meal, called sehri. Famous pre-dawn meals include paratha, yoghurt, vermicelli, and lassi, a dairy drink.
Ramadan brings special joy for children who join their families in observing fasting for the first time. Their success becomes a source of pride for their parents. On the last night of Ramadan, a special tradition of get-togethers happens, called Chaand Raat, which means night of the moon sighting. After the final iftar, women and girls flock to the local markets to buy colourful bangles and paint their hands and feet with henna designs.