From dawn to dusk and dusk to dawn,
the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is a time for nurturing piety.
Mosques fill with worshippers, hotels are closed during the day.
The muezzin's call of 'adhan' and sounds of sirens are the signals
for starting and breaking fast.
Each year, when the sound of a particular siren is heard in the
Jama Masjid area of Old Delhi, people begin the first fast of
Ramadan. They go to the neighbourhood mosque as soon as they hear
A child, holding his father's fingers, comes to the mosque. They
have woken up four hours earlier than usual along with others.
Although the child's mother told him he was too young to fast, he
did not listen.
Syed Affaf Qadri Nadvi, an Islamic cleric of Delhi, explains that
Ramadan is the name of ninth month of the Islamic calendar. "It is
the holy month because the Quran was revealed during Ramadan.
Fasting is compulsory for Muslims in this month. It begins after
the sighting of the crescent moon."
And when the sun sets, it is time for iftar, the evening meal.
In Delhi, there are different environments in various dominantly
Muslim areas like Jama Masjid, Okhla, Jamia Nagar and Seelampur.
Mohammad Anis Siddiqui, an 80-year-old retired teacher, says:
"I've been listening to the voices of sirens in Delhi since 1955."
Sometimes, he says, the sirens were not enough to get people out
of bed, so different techniques have to be employed.
"Sometimes announcements are made through mosques and at some
places some people voluntarily walk to the homes in an area and
announce 'This is dawn, this is the time to eat sehar. At some
places people sing 'naat' from the mosque's loudspeaker to wake up
India being a huge country, dawn arrives an hour earlier in the
east. This is why the time of iftar and sehar in West Bengal and
Assam is more than one hour earlier than in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
"In the past, sewai (vermicelli), a special sweet prepared from
wheat, was made by hand in Delhi and northern India. But now there
is no handmade sewai or jaggery," said Abdul Qayyum, a 70-year-old
farmer from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh.
Compared to life in the villages, people from cities go to sleep
late at night. During Ramadan they stay up even later. So some
take the Sehar meal late at night and then sleep later in the
Traditional foods vary around the country. In some parts of
northern India like Azamgarh, Allahabad, Lucknow and Kanpur, a
liquid mixture of ground coconut, cashew nut and almond is very
In schools with Muslim majorities, schedules are changed. After
the 'fajr' prayer before sunrise, Muslim neighbourhoods fall
silent. As soon as the afternoon is over, shops open and traffic
gets jammed. The iftar markets draw huge crowds.
Mohammad Sajid, a student of philosophy at Jamia Millia Islamia
here, says: "It seems Ramadan is a month of eating and drinking.
Earlier there weren't so many food items, nor as many iftar as
In Tamil Nadu and parts of Kerala, mosques invite people to come
for iftar and neighbours may donate unique cooked items.
Abdul Jaleel, a political activist from Kerala, said people
considered it an honour to be allowed to volunteer to arrange the
iftar in their local mosque.
(Abu Zafar Adil Azmi
can be contacted at email@example.com)