Monday, August 31, 2009

Ramadan Television

In the northern hemisphere the sun sets at a different time each day, either later each day (if it’s between December 21st and 21st June), or earlier (if it’s between June 21st and December 21st).

This means the timing for breaking the fast changes each day.

To ensure the fast is broken at the correct time each day most families tune in to a Gulf TV station - all of them have special graphics to let you know the fast is over.  Most stations have a cannon being fired {see wgaw blog archive: Ramadan Cannon} followed by Quranic recitations or something similar.

During the month of Ramadan all Gulf TV stations air special Ramadan series and 'Tash ma Tash' [tash ma tash] from Kuwait is probally the most famous and irreverant.  Very addictive when you watch each and every evening:

Here's another short You Tube from Tash ma Tash with far easier Arabic:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ramadan Iftar

The desert/sweet/cake section at a 5 start hotel Iftaar buffet

Food in Ramadan takes on a special significance and Iftar [if-tarr] is the meal in which those who have fasted from sunrise to sunset eat again - the breaking of the fast at sunset.

Because of the reasons behind not fasting {see wgaw blog post: 5 Pillars of Islam} and the length of time without consuming either liquid or food families always break fast together.  

Homemade vegetable samoosas [sam-moo-sas]  and kebabs or Bajee [baa-jee]

Consequently family houses are full of guests throughout the month of Ramadan and often 20 or more people will eat together each night. So, the food section is large because after a day of non-consumption it's a great relief to be sitting down to a meal with loved ones and counting your blessings.

L-R:  Homemade dhal/lentil soup,  threed [tH-reed] (bread, lamb, potatoes + one other veggie) and at the bottom:  saloona [sa-loo-na] a thin gravy with lamb or beef, similar to an Indian curry, but with a lighter sauce and less spices.

With that number of people it’s difficult to fit around a table, so the table itself becomes a plastic sheet on the floor and the family sits around it. 

The main dish of the evening is usually put on three plates; one large one in the middle and two smaller ones at each end. All the other food will be put on to at least two separate dishes, one on each half of the plastic sheet. This system ensures dishes don’t have to be passed along a chain of people.

Food Eaten
Traditionally the fast was broken with dates and a yogurt-like substance called laban (see below for more details), although these days families will often sit down to a full meal. The first thing most people want is a drink, this is then followed by some food.

As an outsider iftarin Bahrain  seems to consist mainly of carbohydrates and fat although in Saudi it will often only consist of dates and yogurt. Once these have been eaten the worshiper will pray, either in the house (if she’s a woman) or at the mosque (if he’s a man) and only after this prayer will more food be consumed.

The Sun Sets
Over the years, as I was racing against the sun to reach the family house to be on time for the start of iftar, I've become quite accurat at telling the time by the location of the sun in the sky. A reasonably easy thing to do, you just check how far away it is from the horizon and from there you have an idea of how many minutes are left until its disappear and dusk arrives.

In the Gulf, because of the nearness to the equator, the sun sinks fast and there is very little time between sunset and darkness.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ramadan Laterns

The lanterns [faa-nooh] which have filled Egypt every Ramadan for hundreds of years are so pretty they're slowly being introduced into the GCC and we're seeing them in hotel lobbies and hanging outside house or flat windows.

The lamps are cube-shaped and hollow, with a frame made from thin strips of tin and small pieces of hand-colored glass.

Apparently in Egypt names given to the different types and sizes:
large ones could be called ‘Bride of the Nile’ or ‘Musa’ [moo-sa], Moses whilst the smaller ones have names such as ‘Shaqqat Battikhah Kabirah’ [sha-khat bat-tee-car cab-bree-ah], a big piece of watermelon) and ‘Najmat al-Bahr’ [najj-mat al ba-harr], the star of the sea).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ramadan Cannons

For many years, during the month of Ramadan, cannons have been fired to indicate the sun has set. Hearing the cannon fire signals the day's fasting is complete and eating may begin.  

Saturday, August 22, 2009


It's not easy to fast from sunrise to sunset, but it is possible and millions of people will choose to fast during daylight hours for the entire month of Ramadan.

According to friends who fast [sigh-yim] there are two aspects to fasting: the first is the physical, or dealing with your thirst and hunger and the second is the mental aspect, or your intention [knee-yaH] and dealing with the reasons behind why you are fasting.

Some Muslims of the Shi’ite/Shia faith {see wgaw blogspot: Creeds of Islam} choose to fast for an additional two months preceding the Holy Month of Ramadan. I’ve only ever come across men choosing to do this.  When asked why they would spend so much time choosing not to eat, they've all answered they believe they'll gain extra points when it comes to entering heaven.

In addition to the Ramadan fast, some Muslims will fast every Monday and Thursday, throughout their adult lives, but I’ve only ever come across women doing this. When asked why they fast during the week, their answer is the same as in the previous example, to get extra points when entering heaven.

Who Should not fast During Ramadan?
Everyone is expected to fast in Ramadan, but there are some people who are not allowed to fast: the old, the young and the sick. The Qur'an states for those people who are sick, or can not endure it, “There is a ransom: the feeding of a poor man.”

People who should not fast include:
1. Non-Muslims
2. Children below the age of puberty
3. The old and infirm. However they must pay compensation in the form of Fidyah [fee-dee-yah]. That is, they must give a sum of money equal to the cost of feeding one poor person, for each day they are unable to fast.
4. The sick, if fasting will cause harm. Those who are sick and able to fast must do so.
5. The mentally ill

There are three additional reasons for missing a day's fasting during Ramadan:

1. women who are menstruating or have postpartum bleeding are forbidden to fast. However they must make up the missed days later
2. Pregnant, or nursing women may stop fasting and make up the missed days later
3. Travellers who are intending to travel should not fast on that day. Again they should make up the missed day/s at a later time. The Qur'an states, “He who is ill or on a journey shall fast a similar number of days later on”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Ramadan Moon

In a few days time Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, will start. In 2009 it is thought to start around Sunday 23rd August.  It started on Saturday 22nd August.

To determine the official beginning and end of Ramadan in the Gulf States, a moon sighting committee composed of Sunni religious men sits in Jeddah, on the east coast of Saudi Arabia.

The committe meets each evening and waits for the moon's appearance, as well as receiving moon sighting messages. Consequently, no one is quite sure of the exact starting date of Ramadan and in reality it only starts when the committee is convinced the moon has been sighted.

Image taken from:

In the Middle East the moon sits at a different angle to that seen in Europe, America and Australia; here the moon lays as if being cradled. On the first day of Ramadan the moon can only be seen at dusk, very low in the sky for a maximum of five minutes.

Image taken from:

Notices that Ramadan or Eid has started are put in the newspapers and announcements are made on the radio, but most people will find out Ramadan has started through a phone call from one of their family members, a work colleague, or a friend.

The entire Gulf workforce follows the committee's directive and working hours change. Offically Muslims work just six hours a day during Ramadan (two less than normal).

However, at home Shi'ites/Shias will start and end Ramadan one day later than the Sunni decrees.

Ramadan is an obligation, or one of the five pillars of Islam {see wgaw blog archive: 5 pillars of Islam} and all Muslims are expected to fast [sigh-yim].

Fasting in reality means nothing is passed between the lips between sunrise and sunset for one lunar month each year, except for those travelling, the sick, those who have not yet reached puberty and all menstrating women.  In addition, sexual acts should not take place between sunrise and sunset.  For each day's missed fasting Muslims are expected to 'pay back' before the next Ramadan starts.

Fasting is said to teach patience, humility and an understanding of what it is like to be poor and hungry.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wedding Fire

I'm shocked to say the least, after having attended many Arabic female-only weddings {see future wgaw archive:}, but at least 41 people, all women and children, have died after a fire broke out in a tent being used at a wedding in Kuwait City:

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Image taken from:

I remembered this particular dinner party conversation a couple of days ago and decided it somehow fitted in with Arab-Eurpean cross cultural communication.

We were invited out for dinner one evening at a friend of a friend's house. We arrived at the host's house and entered, were ushered in to the lounge, sat down and were offered drinks. As we sat there and the conversations slowly began we started looking around the lounge and taking in what was on display.

We realised our host had an incredibly large collection of local antiques which could, if you were being unkind, be termed 'junk'. Quite an unusal thing in the Middle East. Both myself and my husband are interested in old objects, especially objects which had previous uses; agricultural, industrial, baking.

We both stood up and started moving around the lounge, picking up and marvelling at the sheer number of items and the age of what we were holding.

Suddenly our host, a man in his early 50's, became quite animated.

He jumped up from his chair and grabbed both our hands and led us to a very specific metal box which was placed on the bottom glass shelf on one of the display units. The box which would've once been made of metal, was now metal joined together with dark, rough rust. It was a fragile, old relic with a lid which was kept in place with an angled and battered hinge.

He picked up the box carefully and started to rub it gently and slowly the look on his face turned to glee, but not quite. Opening the lid as if it contained a powder which would blow away if he wasn't careful, he asked me if I knew what the contents would've been used for.

Looking at the assortment of rust and metal I couldn't tell, I simply had no idea about why this particluar box could hold such rapt attention. All I could see was a dirty old cloth, a very rusty knife and something else which used to be metal, but was also now a dark rusty colour.

Image taken from:

Barely containing his excitement he burst out, "It's for chopping willies, it's for chopping willies" and then proceeded to pick up the knife and cut the air.

He then explained, this time with glee, "My grandfather used to travel around the villages in Bahrain and carry out the circumcisions." He continued, "It would be a party when he arrived."

At this explanation another man who had happened to overhear the converstation wandered over and started getting quite animated too, "Oh I remember him." And with a look of pure relish blurted out, "He did mine."

I dropped the box.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How to Read & Write Arabic 20: faa

Today's post is the letter faa, a far easier letter to say than the past couple of posts. To say faa, think of the pronunciation of the 'f' in the English word, 'feather' and you shouldn't have many problems getting it right.

Writing Faa
This week we'll change the layout of the blog posting a little. I'll introduce each of the four forms: independent, inital, medial and final {see wgaw archive: baa} of the letter faa, and then highlight how it's written in the following photographs.

Not only is faa easy to say, it's also pretty easy to write, with each of the four forms staying more or less the same.


Now try to find the independent form of faa in the photographs below:

The initial form of faa looks like this:

Now try to find the initial form of faa in the photographs below:

As you will no doubt know, Arabic was developed hundreds of years ago as a handwritten script.  Consequently there are a couple of special combinations of letters, called ligatures, which add complications to the written form and this particular letter.

When faa occurs at the beginning of a word and yaa (two dots under the line) is the next letter {see future wgaw blog archive} , another form of the letter occurs. In the printed form, faa sits on top of the following letter, like so:

Medial faa, or faa in the middle of a word is written like this:

Now try to find the meidal form of faa in the photographs below:


When faa occurs at the end of a word, it looks like this:

Now try to find the final form of faa in the photographs below:

HIde & Seek
Now see how many faas you can find in the five photos below:

What's Next?
The next letter to be introduced in this series will be the letter qaaf, a letter very similar to faa, but with two dots on top.

Monday, August 10, 2009


"Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, 'you owe me'.
Look what happens with a love like that, it lights up the whole sky."

Hafiz, 14th Century Persian poet

Image taken from:

In the past couple of weeks I've read lots of angry blog posts written by European women married to Arabs/ Muslims.

Their ranting has gone well past my sell by date. I'm not numb to it, but their anger left me feeling tired and jangly.

Years ago, M.Scott Peck stopped me in my tracks ~literally~ when I read the words, "Life is Difficult" the first sentence in, 'The Road Less Travelled'.  And a very wise girlfriend recently explained, "Accept the consequences that come from the decision you have made."

The other thing I've realised is: I'm shocked family problems and disagreements are being discussed in such a public manner.  I can't quite believe so much negative information about internal family rifts is being given out on such a public forum.

Have I become partly Arab?  For an Arab family all disagreements remain firmly within the walls of the family house, never to be prised open to outsiders.
Or have I become old and uncomprehending of the need for instant twitter updates?

Today it's goodbye ranting white females and hello Hafiz:

I said I long for thee
You said your sorrows will end.
Be my moon, rise up for me
Only if it will ascend.
گفتم غم تو دارم، گفتا غمت سرآید
گفتم که ماه من شو، گفتا اگر برآید
I said, from lovers learn
How with compassion burn
Beauties, you said in return
Such common tricks transcend.
گفتم ز مهرورزان رسم وفا بیاموز
گفتا ز خوبرویان این کار کمتر آید
Your visions, I will oppose
My mind's paths, I will close
You said, this night-farer knows
Another way will descend.
گفتم که برخیالت راه نظر ببندم
گفتا که شبروست او، از راه دیگر آید
With the fragrance of your hair
I'm lost in my world's affair
You said, if you care, you dare
On its guidance can depend.
گفتم که بوی زلفت گمراه عالـمم کرد
گفتا اگر بدانی هم‌اوت رهبر آید
I said hail to that fresh air
That the morning breeze may share
Cool is that breeze, you declare
With beloved's air may blend.
گفتم خوشا هوایی کز باد صبح خیزد
گفتا خنک نسیمی کز کوی دلبر آید
I said, your sweet and red wine
Granted no wishes of mine
You said, in service define
Your life, and your time spend.
گفتم که نوش لعلت ما را به آرزو کشت
گفتا تو بندگی کن، کو بنده‌پرور آمد
I said, when will your kind heart
Thoughts of friendship start?
Said, speak not of this art
Until it's time for that trend.
گفتم دل رحیمت کی عزم صلح دارد
گفتا مگوی با کس تا وقت آن درآید
I said, happiness and joy
Passing time will destroy.
Said, Hafez, silence employ
Sorrows too will end my friend.
گفتم زمان عشرت دیدی که چون سرآمد؟
گفتا خموش حافظ کاین قصه هم سرآید
Translation by Shahriar Shahriari. Taken from:

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Fish at the Bottom [simik fee gaa-et-teh]

Today's posting is an old Persian receipe from Nana Khali [na-na kha-lee], my deceased Mother-in-Law, which my husband cooked for Friday lunch yesterday.  Fab-a-roony.

white fish, with  bones removed
red onions
white onions
red pepper
equal amounts of ghee & veggie oil
black-eyed beans
dill (two ammounts:  medium chopped and finely chopped)
corriander (medium chopped)

tumeric powder
corriander powder
cumin (seeds & ground)
fish masala

lumi powder [loo-me as-wad maT-Hoon]

black pepper (ground)
1 or 2 cinamon sticks
4 cardamons
3 cloves


1. Fry the onions and garlic in the mixture of oil and ghee. Add the cumin seeds and ground black pepper. Cook until the onions start to brown.  Add the chopped tomatoes and red pepper, fry until soft.

2. Whilst the onions are cooking, cut up the fish and rub over both sides; turmeric, corriander and cumin powder.  Then rub over the fish masala, lumi powder and finally grind black pepper over the fish.

3. Add the fish to the onions, red pepper and tomato mix and fry together for about 5 minutes

4. Chop the dill and corriander and add to the fish & onions. Fry.

5. Remove the fish from the frying saucepan and sit to rest on a plate

6. Whilst the fish is being cooked, prepare the rice: put the rich in the saucepan and cover with cold water. agitate to remove the starch, repeat this three times. Drain all water and then cover with boiling salted water and cook until just tender.

7. Once the rice is just tender, remove from heat, drain and wash with cold water. Add the cinamon sticks, allow to cool.

8. Add a tin of black-eyed peas to the rice

9. Then put some butter in the bottom of the pan you cooked the rice in, let it warm and then add the fish

10. Add the finely chopped dill, cinamon sticks, cardamom and cloves to the rice.  Mix.  Now put this rice mixture on top of the fish

11. Put the diffuser under the saucepan

12. Heat the saucepan and the rice until quite hot, then turn down the source of heat. Cook for about two hours on low.

13. Serve, eat and enjoy