Whether you celebrate Ramadan or not, embracing the Holy Month and its traditions becomes part of who we are when living in the Middle East.
Ramadan is upon us and offers a reason to decelerate life and focus on connecting with yourself spiritually and being grateful for all you’ve got. After one whole year of living in a pandemic, it’s essential to look inside ourselves; it can be through religion or as a time to connect with yourself on a deeper level. We need to find the strength to continue, and an introspective retreat can give us hope for better days ahead.
The Holy Month comes with a certain vibe and customs, some of which can be embraced by us all. We want to share with you some of the aspects of this reflective moment and how they can be implemented in our lives.
Fashion is a way to show the world an aspect of our personality and to express, without saying a word, who we are. The modest way of dressing is an elegant trend, and many women around the world have been opting for this kind of style, where most of the skin is covered. The results are classy and well-thought-out looks. To enter the spirit of Ramadan, jalabiyas and abayas are the pieces to wear. Flowy and comfortable items are a good pick for your daily chores and pretty enough to go out and about your (essential) errands.
“During Ramadan, people become very spiritual and connected with their soul, and they want to feel comfortable, so jalabiyas and abayas are the best options,” says Hiba Elbashir. She is a fashion designer that works with a traditional Sudanese cotton fabric called d’amour in her brand Diba. She adds that this period is the best moment to embrace the ‘less is more’ concept. “The clothing should be spacious and not tight to the body, and pieces have to be very simple with not too many details.”
However, suppose you have a special occasion or events to attend during this period (hopefully in open spaces following all the health measures for everyone’s safety). In that case, Camila de Zorzi, a fashion designer with her own eponymous brand, believes that the details make all the difference. “In my opinion, small eye-catching elements, such as handmade embroidery, add value to the pieces.” Her brand pays full attention to these little details. “When you have something made by hand, the clothing items or accessories come to life,” she adds.
Black is the most common colour in abayas, and lots of women choose to wear it during the Holy Month. But not all. “I work only with one colour in all my collections, the natural white tint of the cotton, and I create my pieces adding a few splashes of colour and some patterns; I think the simpler, the better,” says Hiba. She also believes that black is a royal shade and not the best pick for the period.
Fashion trends influence the abaya and jalabiya market, but not to the same extent as seen in ready-to-wear collections. “I believe in lifestyle more than trends, despite adjusting some aspects that are part of the transformations in our society, my brand has its own voice, and we focus on handmade details more than trends,” explains Camila. She adds that if there is a colour to pick this Ramadan, it would be lavender, a healing and girlish shade. When it comes to accessories to add to your Ramadan looks, both designers have the same opinion. They must be minimal and not create too much distraction. “Ramadan is a good moment to wear silver jewellery; it emanates strong vibes, and the scarves during this period should be very simple,” says Hiba. While Camila adds: “I believe that the right pair of shoes is capable of defining any outfit.”
International brands such as Carolina Herrera, Max Mara, Etro and Loro Piana curated their collections to select the best picks for Ramadan. At the same time, regional bands have designed unique pieces to be worn during the Holy Month.
Even Shakespeare understood the importance of fragrance in this part of the world. His Lady Macbeth mentions that: “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand,” in his play Macbeth. The whole world knows that the scents coming from the Arab countries are strong, made with high-quality ingredients and part of the culture and everyday life. Amber, musk, henna, jasmine, frankincense, sandalwood and oud are some of the most popular ingredients found in perfumes created in the MENA region. The Middle East’s smell is traditional and opulent, just like its rich culture and décor taste.
The quintessential aroma can be felt as soon as you arrive in the Middle East, not only from its people but from the incense burners placed in malls and perfume shops. They add an extra ambience to the environment.
Bukhoor is the Arabic name given to scented bricks or a blend of natural traditional ingredients, soaked in fragrant oils and placed in charcoal burners known as Mabkhara. These scented chips/bricks are used on special occasions or to perfume the house or store and boost positive energy. In Islamic history, all prophets are known to have used bukhoor regularly, mainly on Fridays. The eminent Queen of Yemen, Arwa Suleyhi used to send large wooden boxes of bukhoor to Najaf, Karbala and Egypt in the Holy Month of Ramadan. When it was burnt, the sacred cities’ atmosphere was pleasant, and people knew that Yemen’s gift had reached its destination.
The habit of burning incenses and scenting both your home and yourself is intensified during Ramadan.
This period is also all about getting your home ready for your spiritual journey and receiving guests (in a smaller number this year). The decoration varies from home to home, but some elements are present in most households at this time.
“The key components in Ramadan decorations include the half-moon, called Hilal, stars, lanterns and candles,” explains Dalal Al Balushi, an event designer. The Fanoos are the traditional Ramadan lanterns used to decorate homes and gardens, and they are a symbol of hope to light the way from the darkness. However, they also have a practical meaning: “Lights are used a lot during the Holy Month, the reason behind this is that most activities take place after the sun sets, so lanterns and candles help to light up the night,” comments Dalal.
Many activities during Ramadan happen around the table, so most of the decorations have their focus in the dining area. The cloths and table runners usually feature Islamic geometric mosaic patterns used in the Arabic traditional seating. Other designs may include modern Moroccan motifs or Arabic calligraphy, that can also be used on pillows and in general decoration. There are different seating arrangements; families can sit at a regular dining table or take a more traditional approach during this period with a floor setting, using cushions, the mesane, paired with a floor mat, the suffrah. “Table or suffrah arrangements will include plates of different shapes and sizes, bowls and trays depending on the variety of food served and also the traditional Dallah for serving Arabic coffee and tea. Candles, lanterns, and flowers are added for décor as something extra,” concludes Dalal.
And because we are talking about table decorations, we must remember that the food served is another essential detail. Fasting has significance in teaching patience, compassion and gratitude. During Ramadan, Muslins fast during the whole day, and after the sun sets, the breaking of the fast occurs.
The first things to be ingested are dates with labneh or milk, followed by light appetisers such as falafel and samboosa. The interesting fact is that you should eat an odd number of dates, so one, three or even five. This practice started because Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) broke his fast with three dates and water. Dates are an excellent source of fibre, natural sugar, iron and magnesium, helping to restore blood sugar after long hours of fasting.
Iftar is then served, and soups are the favourite starters as they replenish the body fluids and warm the stomach to receive the other foods. Fresh vegetables in salads such as fattoush are an excellent source of fibre, vitamins and minerals. They help to reduce bloating and constipation, which is a recurrent problem among fasting people.
Main courses are a mix of rice, usually machboos (prepared with different condiments and proteins like chicken or lamb), stuffed vegetables and grills. Side dishes are composed of mezze (hummus, mutabal, baba ganoush and tabouleh served with each family or restaurant’s flatbread recipe). The feast is not complete without an array of delicious desserts and sweets, like kunafa, Umm Ali and flaky baklavas.
Hydration is also a matter to consider; therefore, do not full the stomach with water at sunset. The best way to rehydrate the body is to drink small quantities of liquid regularly between Iftar and Suhoor (the last meal before sunrise). Excessively salty and spicy foods increase the need for water consumption, so it’s better to avoid them.
The month of Ramadan is the perfect time to reflect on your life and your attitudes. You can use this period to improve your relationship with yourself, others and the world around you.
You can connect with Hiba Elbashir @dibaclothing_Camila de Zorzi @camiladezorzibrand
and Dalal Al Balushi @dolcevents