The entire Muslim population of the country is mobilized for the holy month of fasting and turns it into a month-long festivity in this land once home to one of the greatest hadith scholars in Islamic history, Imam Buharî; Ebu Ali Ibn Sina (known in the West as Avicenna); and the great Sufi Muhammad Nakshibend. Similar to all Muslim societies, shortly before the month begins, people do their Ramadan shopping and clean their houses.
The open bazaars in the capital Tashkent in particular teem with believers who are aiming to put some extra snacks -- maybe something a little luxurious -- on their iftar table, as if benefiting from just another opportunity to mark the difference of this month from the others. Imsakiyes, which show the iftar, sahur and the daily prayer times to be observed in Ramadan, usually printed on A-4 size papers, are sold a week before the month in the bazaar. These Ramadan calendars sell out in no time, a sign of people’s devotion to the month.
Iftar brings people closer together
Ramadan is a month of solidarity and sharing in Uzbekistan as well; remembering poor neighbors by giving a helping hand to needy families stands out as among the most prominent features of the month in the country. Giving iftar dinners is a very important tradition observed in all Muslim countries, based on the sayings of Prophet Mohammed. In Uzbekistan it is a very common practice during Ramadan and the wealthy in particular hold large-scale iftar events in this country that is famous for the generosity of its people. With the feeding of the poor and increased abstinence from evil thoughts and acts, the spiritual abundance of the month is made to overflow.
Division of tasks at home
First families determine what is lacking in the kitchen and a shopping list is made. Hosts don’t shy from any expenditure necessary to spread the most beautiful iftar table possible. Iftar preparation tasks are divided among individuals. The most senior ladies of the house cook the main course, while the younger ladies take care of making the salads and snacks and setting the table. The middle-aged men of the house are given the task of grilling the meats, if the menu includes them, and the children take water, bread and salt and pepper shakers to the table. While all these tasks are being fulfilled with teamwork, the oldest man of the house welcomes the guests at the door.
Uzbeks sit at the table with prayer
As most Uzbek families are large, men sit at a table set for male guests and women are led to the room that has a table for female guests. It’s a very old Uzbek tradition to pray once everyone is settled around the table. As it is commonly believed by Muslims that God accepts the prayers of a guest so long as he prays for lawful things, a prayer is requested of the guests. When the iftar is announced by the call to prayer (ezan) of the evening prayer (maghrib), complete silence reigns in the household. While the elders say their sincerest prayers inaudibly, their eyes closed, the children concentrate on the various snacks that ornament the table. Probably the most distinctive feature of an iftar invitation in Uzbekistan is that one of the men of the house chants the call to prayer when the time is due. A special iftar prayer is said right after the ezan and they break their fast, eating only the snacks at first. After a brief session of tasting all the snacks, they perform the evening prayer in congregation. The house suddenly turns into a small mosque. The usual supererogatory supplications made after the prayer are observed briefly and the happy fasters return to the tables. In the second part of the iftar dinner come the real dishes. The host of the iftar table, Adbulgafar Turapova, serves his guests a dish of tripe stuffed with rice and horse meat, called “hasip,” following soup and another dish in between. Hasip is normally found on tables only on special occasions. The imam of the nearby mosque, who is among the invitees, talks about Ramadan and fasting whenever he gets the chance, ensuring that the children of the house are filled with precious pieces of information at this early age -- they will host these iftar dinners in 20 years’ time.
The third part of dinner, the kebabs grilled by the men, is served and after comes the desserts. When the dinner is over, the imam recites a set of verses from the Holy Quran and a dinner prayer is said. The guests pray for the wellbeing and welfare of the host and his family. When the guests are ready to take their leave, they are seen to the door by the hosts and at the door the guests extend an iftar dinner invitation to the host and his family for an iftar dinner at their own home.
Heartfelt wishes from our iftar hostess
The oldest lady of the house, and therefore our hostess, is 74-year-old Denahat Turapova, who expressed her gratitude and happiness at reaching another Ramadan, which gave her and her family many opportunities to do good and particularly to give iftar dinners. The old lady also prayed that Ramadan be instrumental in bringing everyone, regardless of religion, peace, health and prosperity. Mrs. Turapova’s son, Abdulgafar Turapova, 50, the host of the dinner as his father passed away some years ago, said that they eagerly waited for Ramadan throughout the year, excited to be united with all their loved ones. “After freeing itself from the yoke of communism, our country started passing the holy month of fasting with a greater enthusiasm,” he said.
After the dinner, the people of the house pray for one last time. Feeling the joy of having hosted one more iftar dinner, the family happily waved to us as we left.
Evening action in Ramadan begins with terawih
Once the iftar dinners are over, the liveliness of the approaching terawih prayer pervades the streets. Muslims Uzbeks from all age groups flock to the mosques and the streets that were completely empty during iftar time are filled with people once more. Although during every terawih prayer in Uzbekistan a 30th of the Quran -- 20 pages -- is recited by the imam, in most of the mosques the number of people who attend the prayers is surprisingly high, considering that its lasts for about two hours.
Children collect baksheesh
The arrival of the fasting month pleases the children most. In groups of four or five, they go from door to door singing special Ramadan quatrains, ringing doorbells and waiting for whatever might be given to them. The residents of the building understand from the Ramadan quatrains that the “mobile baksheesh collectors” have arrived. Although what the children usually hope for is money, they usually are given candies or desserts.