Ramadan in Iran: Quiet Days and Bustling Evenings

The holy month of Ramadan has a special place in Iranian culture. Muslims believe Allah (God) began revealing the Holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Ramadan. As such, Ramadan and its traditions are held in high regard by practicing Muslims.

Holy month of Ramadan in Iran

Ramadan started on May 27 in Iran (in 2017) and is expected to end on June 25, but the date may vary depending on the sighting of the crescent moon, which heralds the beginning of the next month, Shawwal.
Both domestic and international tourism in Iran is low during Ramadan, making it an ideal time to travel to Iran. Hotels, which are mostly empty, offer huge discounts to draw tourists. You’re basically guaranteed to score an affordable room in a quality establishment and not to worry about noise coming from an adjacent room.

sighting moon for Ramadan in Iran

Sighting the Moon

And it’s not just hotels that are empty: Go to bazaars during the day — when people are fasting — and you’ll be shocked at the scarcity of shoppers. Of course, this is an advantage if you’re out shopping for you’ll have an easier time going from store to store.
Also, if you’re thinking of traveling around Iran, airfares are usually cheaper this time of year.

Ramadan Customs

The atmosphere in cities change with the onset of Ramadan. Streets and shops are adorned with colorful lights and flowers, and people (particularly older folks) greet one another by saying “Ramadan Mubarak”, which means “Happy Ramadan”.
The purpose of fasting during Ramadan is for people to understand the hardship endured by the impoverished; as such, people are expected to go about their daily lives as normal. It is a test of will power and self-discipline to stay away from foods, drinks and even cigarettes until it’s time to break the fast in the evening.

Iftar- Sofre Eftar

Iftar

People who fast eat twice every day: Once in the early morning (Sahari) before dawn (Fajr) Prayer, and once in the evening (Iftar) after sunset (Maghrib) Prayer.
Fasting takes places between Sahari and Iftar. No eating is allowed public during fasting hours (sunrise to sunset), so those who don’t fast (including non-Muslims) can only indulge themselves in private.
In Ramadan, most restaurants in cities (not on roads) are closed during fasting hours but they will be open after Iftar. Cities roar back to life when cafes and restaurants open and shopping malls are flooded with eager buyers. It’s a great opportunity if you want to experience the nightlife in Iran.

Imam Reza Holy Shrin

Imam Reza Holy Shrine

It’s good to remember that some restaurants and fast food places are open during the day and offer cold meals. You may also be able to buy ready-made foods from supermarkets and minimarts.
Don’t worry about your hotel though; meals are served on schedule for guests.

 

Ramadan Foods

A variety of Iranian foods and pastry are served during Ramadan.
One of the most popular foods during Iftar is “Ash” (the ‘a’ is pronounced like the ‘a’ in Arthur). It is a sort of thick soup and has different types; the most common ones being ash-e-reshteh and ash-e sholeh qalamkar.
Ash-e-reshteh is vegetarian-friendly and it contains vegetable, beans and a type of noodle. Ash-e sholeh qalamkar, however, has meat and is a bit spicy.While these two are staples during Ramadan, every region also offers their own type of ash, so be sure to try them!
Another popular food is Halim! An oat-based food, it is normally eaten for breakfast but during Ramadan it’s a popular Iftar meal, with the most common type containing turkey.

Halim a popular food in Ramadan in Iran

Halim

If you have a sweet tooth, you’re in luck! Two types of very sweet, deep-fried pastry called Zulbia and Bamieh are wildly popular during Ramadan. Like other foods mentioned so far, they’re available throughout the year but they are in a particularly high demand at this of the year.

Zulbia and Bamieh

Zulbia and Bamieh

Of course, no Iftar tabler is complete without a plateful of dates, especially Mazafati or Bam dates. They’re nutritious and tasty, and most importantly, you have probably never tasted it before.

Ramadan Rituals

Rituals related to Ramadan are mostly practiced by Shia Muslims in Iran.
Ceremonies (Ahya or vigil) are held in mosques across the country on the 19th and 23rd of Ramadan.
The 19th is a sad day for Muslims, for it was on this day over 1,300 years ago that Imam Ali, the first Shia imam (fourth for Sunnis) was struck with a sword at suffered grave wound that would take his life two days later.

 

The 23rd marks “Shab-e-Qadr”, or the “Night of Decree”, according to Shias. They believe the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the prophet on this day. Sunnis believe the Shab-e-Qadr falls on the 27th of Ramadan.  Muslims believe that Allah forgives all sins on this day if the person repents.

Shab-e-Qadr or the Night of Decree in Iran

“Shab-e-Qadr”, or the “Night of Decree”

An old ritual in Ramadan is Nakhl Gardani, which involes long processions on the street dressed in black, some of whom carry a coffin covered in black and green. This is to commemorate the death of Imam Ali, who on Ramadan 21 succumbed to his wounds.
Another key part of the holy month is the sighting of the moon. As mentioned earlier, moon sighting is essential to knowing when the month ends and Fitr celebrations (more on the below) can begin. Observance of the crescent moon at the end of the Islamic month of Sha’ban is also integral to knowing when Ramadan begins.

Fitr Celebration

Eid al-Fitr (or Eyd-e Fetr in Farsi) marks the end of Ramadan and beginning of Shawwal. It is a joyous occasion celebrated by all Muslims regardless of their sect. Many Iranian go to their local mosques to perform communal prayers, while others celebrate it at home with their families.
Some also go to the streets and distribute cookies, pastries and juice. If you’re offered anything, it’s nice to accept!
Traditionally, huge crowds of people perform Fitr Prayers, (or Namaz-e Eyd-e Fitr) at every city’s biggest mosque, an unusual sight that happens once a year.

Fitr Prayers in Tehran

Fitr Prayers in Tehran

While adults cannot eat in public, children, the elderly, pregnant women and those who cannot fast are exempt from the rule. Sure, not being able to eat or drink publicly can be a hassle, but it’s a small price to pay to see a vastly different Iran.
Visiting Iran in Ramadan shows you a different side of the country, a side that you don’t often read about on the internet or see on the news.
The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar which lasts 354 days—11 days shorter than solar calendar. In other words, the Islamic calendar shifts every year with respect to a tropical year. So make sure to check your calendar before making travel plans.

Amir Morshed
Amir Reza is a freelance marketing consultant who’s delivered creative and engaging solutions across Strategy and Market Development, brand identity, web and traditional advertising and CRM.
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