Ramadan series: Water

Since Islamic religious observances are based on an unadjusted lunar calendar therefore we get to experience Ramadan all seasons of the year. Every year Ramadan moves forward in the Gregorian calendar by about 10-12 days. So in about 30 years time we get a complete rotation of the month of fasting covering all seasons of the year. In the coming years, Ramadan will be observed in Summer, a time when faithfuls will be tested fully.

My best memories of Ramadan are those that involved considerable discomfort. Those were the days of hot summer months, sometimes without electricity and sun that seemed hotter than hell. I remember watching the second hand of the clock running unexceptionally slow as we waited for the azaan.

Photo by AAkshay Mahajan

Those days we lived in a Muslim basti and on the edge of our neighborhood we had a temporary ice vendor show up just minutes before the iftar time. He had one or two large block of ice wrapped in a gunny sack or straw to prevent it from melting. You hand over some money and you get some ice back, there was no measure in weight or length. The ice you get was all depended on your luck, rush, and his mood. For most people of that locality, with no access to fridge, that was the only source of cold water.

After a long and hot summer day, when you open your fast you just want to drink water. Not even Rooh Afza with falooda can match the taste of plain cold water. You don’t care about the goodies that your mom prepared in even hotter kitchen that just moments ago you were drooling over. But just a sip of water and you feel that you have never tasted the water so delicious before and all you want to do is drink glass after glass. Food will have to wait.

Ramadan series: Rooh Afza

For millions of Muslims of South Asia, Ramadan is not complete without Rooh Afza. A red-colored drink in its unique bottle design that hasn’t changed since I was little has been the choice of the first sip of millions of rozedars every day of Ramadan for the last 100 years.

Rooh Afza was launched by Hamdard in 1907, and its popularity has only grown over the years. My memories of Ramadan involve sharbat Rooh Afza made in water and served sometimes with tiny pieces of cucumbers. Rooh Afza is also made in milk and in America I have seen people mixing few tablespoons of Rooh Afza in a gallon of milk.

na rooh afza sa koi sharbat,
kabhi banega na ban chuka hai;
-sa’il dhlavi

Partition of India has also split the Hamdard Laboratories into three. Rooh Afza continue to be the flagship product of both Pakistani and Bangladeshi Hamdard. I have tasted Pakistani version of Rooh Afza but I found a bit synthetic and sweeter than its Indian counterpart.

Hamdard India’s official admits that 15% of their sale happens in Ramadan but I am surprised to see that none of the ads that I could find online have any reference to Ramzan. Is it an oversight or deliberate attempt to reach out to a larger market? In fact look at this ad and you will not even find one Muslim in the entire commercial. Strange, for a product that is closely associated with Muslim culture and population of South Asia.

Anyway, here are some Rooh Afza recipes:



Rooh Afza India: http://www.hamdard.com/hotproducts.php
Rooh Afza Pakistan: http://www.hamdard.com.pk/afza.html
Rooh Afza Bangladesh: http://www.roohafza.com.bd/

Ramadan series: Ramadan vs. Ramzan

Firsts of all, Ramadan vs. Ramzan debate is not the same as Allah Hafiz vs. Khuda Hafiz debate. If anything, usage of the word Ramadan shows the move of Muslims of India from Urdu towards English.

First time I saw the word “Ramadan” was in a letter sent by an American cousin of mine when we were still living in India. I was confused and asked about it and got the reply that this is how it is written in English. Of course, I have seen English newspapers in India write “Ramzan” so I assumed it must be the American way but not sure why. Years later, I learned that the correct Arabic pronunciation of ????? is Ramadan and not Ramzan.

[Photo by Mudassir Rizwan]

Therefore when writing or talking in English, I would go with a choice that has become a standard way of writing the word in English and closer to the original Arabic word rather than its usage in Persian or Urdu.

Having said that, I do recognize that ????? is a proper word in Urdu that though originally came from Arabic and hence it spelling continue to be the Arabic but hundreds of years of usage has given Urdu readers the right to say it the way they want it.

So don’t frown if someone says Ramadan or Ramzan or even Ramjan. The last one is a Hindi word.

Ramadan series: Time

Muslims should always know the importance of time. The five time daily prayers need to be performed during specific time throughout the day and if one doesn’t manage his/her time properly then a prayer can be easily missed. You get additional reminder of the importance of time in the month of Ramadan.

We have to set out clock well before the fast officially starts so that we can finish eating our sehri (pre-dawn meal) and be ready for the fajr prayers. Similarly, we have to wait till it is time for iftaar. Ramadan is also a month of quran and taraweeh prayers therefore we have to manage our daily affairs carefully to make room for additional prayers while we maintain a professional life with full productivity.

Among the people exempted from fasting during Ramadan are the travelers although they have to make it up later. Travelers are also asked to shorten their prayers which is a discount not even able to those who are sick. Now why is that travelers get more discount than people who are sick? Most people think it is because a traveler may not have the same facility or comfort as home and therefore prayers are shortened to make it easier to pray. But my theory is that it is the importance of time that Islam offers a discount.

With some exceptions, all travels are with a purpose- business, education, visiting relatives, pilgrimage, etc. Since one has a limited time during his travel to accomplish that goal it is given highest priority and therefore a discount is given so that travelers continue to remember the lord but utilize their time in accomplishing the task that they set out to do.

These days, though all travelers take benefit of the shorter prayers but all try to keep the fast. The reason is simple; it is much easier to fast in Ramadan than other months.

Ramadan series: New Muslims

In a way we all are new Muslims whether born in a Muslim family or to a non-Muslim one. At one point of time in our life we had to decide that we will continue to be a Muslim and also level of Islam that we will practice in our lives.

Born in a Muslim family we are exposed to thousand to hundred years of practices and tradition that are handed down from generation to generation and we don’t even think about many things we do and why we do it. We have learned it from our parents, families, or our environments. A new Muslim enters into an entirely new world where he/she has to learn to do things differently, think about issues differently, all the while trying to fit or be acceptable to a new world.

Mehraab at ISBCC

While I talk about the diversity of American masaajid, I should also note here that this diversity is dominated by Muslims of South Asian or Arab origin. People of other ethnicities do not get the attention that they need. In some cases it is actually difficult to differentiate between born-Muslims and new Muslims because some of them has adapted the language, culture, and practices so much that they are not distinguishable visually and or in their practices.

But this is not to say that many new Muslims need help and lately mosques are becoming more responsive. Last Wednesday I walked into Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) which was a weekly day of iftar for the new Muslims.

One person was taking out the food for iftar and also having a conversation with another guy. He looks at me and calls me out:
“Brother, can you answer a question?”

Not sure what kind of question to expect, hoping that it will not be a theological question, I smile at him and say yes.

He asks, “Where are you from?”


“Do you have a greeting for Ramadan in your culture? Like Ramadan Kareem or Ramadan Mubarak?”

I didn’t want to get into an explanation of Ramadan vs Ramzan (may be topic for a future post) so I told him that we usually say Ramadan Mubarak.

“Do you say that throughout the month of Ramadan?”

I explained to him that we say usually first few days of Ramadan and when we see someone for the first time after the start of Ramadan.

He wasn’t happy with my answer. I realized what debate he was having with the other guy before I walked in.

Excited about Ramadan, he wanted to say Ramadan Kareem throughout the month. Of course, it has never occurred to me that why can’t this greeting which is actually a dua cannot be said till we are ready to say “Eid Mubarak.”

So though I gave him the answer that he was not looking for thinking about the question changed my way of thinking.

So though we have reached middle of Ramadan but still let me say :
Ramzan Mubarak
Ramadan Mubarak
Ramadan Kareem
Happy Ramadan.

Ramadan series: Lunch

It’s lunch time and my company has served Sushi for its employees but the worst part is that my office mate decided to eat his lunch at his desk.

Ramadan is more than just missing lunch but I am amazed that how is it that just ten days ago I couldn’t survive without eating lunch but for 30 days I can without eating lunch. There must be more to it that just skipping a meal. Granted you try to eat as much in Sehri but around 4-5am when your body is half asleep you can’t put too much food down your throat. And then survive on that food for the next 14-16-18- even 20 hours?

There must be some spiritual calories powering our bodies because a rozedar cannot maintain a full working day only on the energy produced from the food.

Last year, Human Welfare Foundation organized iftar for 500 rickshaw-drivers of Jamia Nagar

Of course, not everyone and not every day that you feel like that, some days are just loooong days that never seem to come close to the iftar time. Most preferred way for working people is to go early to work and come back early before the blood sugar reaches so low that you can’t even clearly think. But not everyone has that luxury of flexible timing. I am amazed how rickshaw-drivers, labourers, and people working in factories are able to fast. I have heard of Muslim employees of Tata Steel who used to fast while working near furnace of the steel plant in hot summer months. May Allah bless them all.

Ramadan series: Hijrah

Migration or hijrah is given special importance in Islam. It is no accident that Islamic calendar begins with important migration of Muslims from Makkah to Madinah. Muslims were persecuted in their home town Makkah leaving them no choice but to move out, Medina welcomed the Prophet and his followers to come and restore peace in Madinah. Now Madinah is known as the City of the Prophet, a great honor.

Migration has been recurring feature of the humanity. With the spread of Islam, and annual pilgrimage of Hajj, the movement of people became easier. We find travelers and people moving around in search of education & employment. Many of these migrations ended up being permanent in nature and years later the descendants may not even know that where their forefathers came from.

Masjid Yusuf in Brighton, MA

Most of the migration happened as a result of natural or man-made disaster or pulls and pressure. Some culture actually discouraged migration. Hindus were discouraged to cross the ocean and go to foreign lands. This posed problems for India’s international trade, therefore Zamorins, the rulers of Kerala issued a decree that that all male children born on a Friday will be Muslims. This help them have enough people to man their ever increasing merchant naval fleet.

The process of migration continues, as I write these lines I am sitting 7500 miles from where I was born. Thanks to today’s better communications, I am able to maintain links back home. This was not the case even a hundred years ago.

Yesterday, during iftar I met one gentleman whose ancestors moved to Guyana from India in 1830s. Approximately 200 years later, he still identifies himself as Indian. Some of the eating habit has remained the same an even some words from Indian origin remain part of his language. He said he felt at home going to India for the first time. It was wonderful to meet him and learn of some tales that we don’t know much about.

Ramadan series: Ummah

On day 6 of Ramadan, I decided to go the local masjid for iftar to feel the community. Outside the annual Hajj, American masaajid are the best place to feel the diversity of the ummah.

Iftar was simple with milk and dates, not many people talked during iftar. After maghrib, dinner was served outside and I sat with two guys from Kenya and one from Senegal. Did you know that Senegal has a over 90% Muslim population and still the government is a secular democracy? Well I did not until yesterday.
When we think of Islam and Muslims, the Arabian Peninsula and the population there comes to mind but the truth is that more Muslims live outside the peninsula and speak languages other than Arabic as their primary means of communications.
The reality is that from the early days of Islam, there were lots of non-Arabs who contributed for the cause of Islam. Some of the biggest names of Islam were all non-Arabs – Imam Abu Hanifah, Tirmizi, Imam Muslim, Imam Bukhari, Ibne Majah, Ibne Sina- and the list goes on.

Indian scholars have also contributed a lot for Islam. Let’s not forget that it was Shah Waliullah who for the first time got the Quran translated, he was criticized a lot for this action but his “innovation” made the Holy Book accessible for millions.
So this Ramadan, let’s do our best to learn the beautiful diversity of the Ummah that makes Islam rich and rooted. We have lot to learn about ourselves.

Ramadan series: disability

It was a very beautiful day this Friday. Sun was out and temperature was just perfect. In a good mood I was walking towards the masjid for the Juma prayers. I noticed a guy in a wheelchair in front of a Korean Restaurant. He looked at me and mumbled something. I stopped and took out my wallet hoping that I would have some change so that I don’t have to part with my $20 bill that I knew was in there.

Realizing what I was doing, and before I could take out the money from the wallet, the man in the wheelchair said, “Can you open the door?”

I looked at him horrified.

Why did I automatically assume that just because he is in a wheelchair, he is asking for money? So today’s topic is on disability and how we assume that just because a person is disabled in one function automatically means that he is unable to survive in this world.

In a way, we all are disabled in one way or another but that doesn’t stop us thinking that we are normal. May be our disability is not visible or may be the technology has improved so much that I can function like a “normal” person. E.g. without my eyeglasses, I will not be able to function very well in this world. Is that not a disability?

Organizations like Equallyable are doing great work to raise awareness about this issue. Also there are organizations that provide services to blind and deaf Muslims. Efforts like these need to be supported.

Finally, I reached the masjid and realized that our masaajid are far from being accessible to all. The masjid that I go to has a flight of stairs to climb up to the men’s section and women have to climb down. There is no way anyone in wheel chair can come and pray in this masjid. Come to think of it most masjids that I have seen are not wheel chair accessible. Something that needs to change soon.

Ramadan series: work

As I sat in a two-hour long all employees meeting at my work today, I had to fight the boredom of watching a long presentation of slides after slides. But being bored was not the biggest thing on my mind, I had to be strong while I see everyone around me eat and drink. Ramadan is not easy for people who work- they had to continue doing their best while running on empty.

There is a hadith that encourages employers to reduce the burden of their employees. In predominantly Muslim countries is not uncommon for government and private companies to reduce their work hours or change office timings during Ramadan.

In India, Aligarh Muslim University announced that during Ramadan all university deparments will open from 8am to 2:30pm i.e. they will work only 6.5 hours every day and only four hours on Fridays. Those of us who are not employed at AMU or work in a Muslim country have to put in full 8 hours of work every day. For Muslims in non-Muslim work environment challenge is many-fold. Since you don’t want to give the impression that fasting is bringing down your productive therefore you have to work really hard when all you feel like is taking a nap and you can’t drink coffee to keep yourself awake. You have to give in your full eight hours at work, though some places it is possible to go early and come home early. Only in Ramadan you realize that how much of activities even at work involve food and drinks- lunch interviews, farewell lunches, all employee meetings, company picnics, and not to mention endless cups of coffee and tea to keep one focused.

Ramadan means that you have to draw from your inner strength, without the aid of caffeine, and continue the exemplary work so that no one can say that look at Muslims they keep fast for a month but slack off at work. We the Muslim employees working in non-Muslim workplaces work extra hard in Ramadan because honor of Islam is on our shoulders.