By Jamshidi Mohamed - Tajikistan
by Abdelazim R. Abdelazim
Like fellow Muslims worldwide,
more than five million Tajikistani Muslims celebrate the holy month of Ramadan and reveal many of their Ramadan-related
customs, traditions and cultural and spiritual activities. The total Tajikistani population is about six million persons,
90% of whom are the most devoted Muslims in mid-Asia and the most observing of religious duties and Islamic identity.
Eastern Goods in Tajikistani Markets
As the month of Ramadan approaches, an unusual restlessness
and watchfulness prevails over Tajikistani life on all its governmental, familial and individual levels. Informational and
cultural bodies and organizations responsible for food supply and consumers diligently boost their activities to help get
the public materially and spiritually prepared for the holy month. Markets and shops undergo big changes by displaying Ramadan
goods and commodities and Eastern products-dates, incense, prayer mats, sibhahs (prayer beads), miswak (tooth
sticks) and Islamic inscriptions-imported from Arab countries and Iran.
In the House of Allah
Mosques- there are about 300 in Tajikistan- play an important
cultural role in the life of Tajikistani Muslims throughout the whole year and especially during Ramadan.
Sheikh Muhammad Ali Zad, Imam of one of Dushanbe’s (the
capital city) mosques states, “Because mosques play an important informational role, especially during Ramadan, we prepare
for this month by beautifying, widening, repairing and cleaning the mosques and replacing their carpets. It has become a custom,”
he adds, “New mosques are inaugurated during Ramadan so as to receive the blessing of this noble month.”
Restoring and decorating the mosques with beautiful Islamic
artwork and “Happy-Ramadan” posters signifies the greatness of the month’s virtues and represents one of
Tajikistan’s most spectacular Ramadan traditions.
Worshippers come to perform their prayers in congregation and
crowd the mosques during Ramadan- as if this month were the only season for worship and asceticism. A student of the Tajikistani
Islamic Institute reflects, “I feel extremely happy when I see the mosques fully crowded by worshippers during Ramadan,
an event that does not occur at other times of the year. The youth increasingly engage in pious deeds and religious work.
Some of those who commit religiously prohibited deeds, astonishingly, give up their bad habits and regularly perform their
obligatory and Tarawih Prayers in mosques.
“In fact, this is a precious opportunity which places
great responsibility upon imams and preachers, who, through modern methods, should increase their cultural activities during
the holy month to address the hearts of those people so that they do not withdraw again after Ramadan.” Imams at many
mosques give daily lessons, distribute religious booklets and deliver sermons after the performance of Prayers and during
the Tarawih Prayer’s intervals.
The Tarawih Prayers are performed in congregations in Tajikistani
mosques because Tajikistani Muslims take as great an interest in this Prophetic tradition as in the obligatory prayers. Unlike
Muslims in other countries who perform only eight rak`ahs (prostrations) in the Tarawih prayers, Tajikistani Muslims,
following the Hanafi School of jurisprudence, perform 20 rak`ahs, and believe that this practice is a confirmed tradition
of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
The Neighborhood at One Table
One of the most important features unique to the month of Ramadan
is the attendance of people at one table, whether or not they are members of one family. Throughout most of Tajikistan, mosques
are considered the main meeting place, and so communal dinning tables are erected. The mosque not only provides Iftar
(meal to break the fast) at charity tables, for the needy and wayfarers, but it serves the whole neighborhood. People prepare
the meal at home, serve it on the one table, and share one another’s food, to reinforce the Islamic principle of unity.
Another type of communal iftar, which is upheld in Tajikistani
houses during Ramadan, is when the master of the house entertains all his relatives, neighbors and friends who, according
to Tajikistani tradition, cannot decline his invitation. A certain space in the house is devoted for congregational and Tarawih
Prayers. After the Prayers, sessions of cultural activities, religious forums and Qur’anic recitations take place. In
some Sufi circles, dhikr rings (a Sufi ritual consisting of repetition of words in praise of Allah) are organized.
All these activities include the intermittent serving of snacks.
Because so many householders compete to hold group iftars
on a neighborhood scale, officials prepare lists of the names of those who wish to host such parties and formulate a timetable
organizing the whole thing.
“Asch Plaw” on a Ramadan Table
Some changes usually take place on the dining table in celebration
of Ramadan. Wide varieties of foodstuffs decorate the Tajikistani table: Bukhari rice (known as asch plaw), soup, kebab
and manto-a dish made of minced meat covered in dough and steamed. The iftar table is also laden with many kinds of
juices and syrups, such as apricot and plum juices and apple and cherry syrups. Traditional sweets are served and include
varieties of jam, honey, candy and nshala, a sweet whitish-to-yellowish substance; it is not only delicious but also
aids digestion, which is why it is an important item on the Ramadan table.