Ramadan in Bangladesh, like any other Muslim majority country, is quite different from other months of the year. The food culture changes totally and all of a sudden people begin to eat jilapi, beguni, chop, halim, etc. People get to spend time with their families more than usual, as their entire schedule revolves around the time of iftar and sehri. That culture has been in decline for the last 10 years.
People here in Bangladesh become festive to a maximum extent whenever there comes an occasion. Ramadan, as the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, is no exception. But with the technological progress in the past few years, a few cultural trends synonymous with Ramadan are seemingly dying out.
Professor K M Wazed Kabir, now proctor of a renowned private university fondly recalls Ramadan in the 80s. "I would go out after iftar for tea. There would be a lot of people in the tea stall chatting on almost every topic there is to talk about; the environment was cosy and homely. But I haven’t seen the same ambience in the last few years," he said.
Ramadan in the past was characterised by gathering between friends and acquaintances after iftar, tarabih and sehri. Especially in the urban and suburban areas, teenagers and millennials would create festive environments. Just after iftar, they would go out for the salat of maghrib followed by a little chit chat in a nearby tea stall.
The whole setting of tarabih would have a very convivial atmosphere as well. Youngsters in groups would go on to attend the jamaat, and seldom would they complete the whole Salat. Roaming around with friends and coming back to mosque before the end, i.e. witr salat, was a common picture.
Mashahed Hassan Simanta, a graduate of the Institute of Business Administration, Jahangirnagar University, still gets goosebumps thinking about those days.
"The post Tarabih atmosphere was magical. Staying outside and moving around the streets at that time of the night for us was a big deal."
"I think, for us the 90s kids, Ramadan had a whole different meaning. The sources of entertainment were not as much as they are now; hence the social gatherings at those times meant a lot to us," said Simanta as nostalgia reverberated in his voice.
The use of fireworks was widespread during the time of Shab-e-Qadr as well as the night before the Eid day, which is colloquially known as ‘Chand Raat.’ But these practices have also gone down over the past few years due to some new laws regarding the use of fireworks as well as the changing social dynamic.
The culture surrounding iftar has changed quite a bit as well. In the past, most of the neighbours living next door were parts of the extended family. Hence, iftar sharing was quite common.
“I would be irritated when my mother sent me to my neighbour's home with a plate decorated with iftar items. But now I really miss those days. Now we no more share iftar,” sighed Ahmed Bulbul, a trainee officer at a private bank.
With the rapid rise of urbanisation as well as a very individualistic work culture, this tradition of sharing iftar between neighbouring households is apparently on the verge of extinction.
But coming to the conclusion that the festivity of Ramadan as a whole is on the brink of obsolescence is quite an over-statement as well. Fahim Shahriar Priyo, a sophomore at the University of Dhaka who hails from Old Dhaka, still enjoys the Ramadan vibes to the fullest.
"I go out after iftar almost every day of the month, and I along with my brother distribute iftar to our neighbours. It's a culture that is never going to die out, at least in my area (old Dhaka)."
Although the old customs are dying out, a few new customs are popping up. Iftar parties are a certainty in almost every social circle. And a lot of restaurants nowadays come up with very attractive iftar platters, hence, facilitating the emergence of a new iftar culture among the urban youths.
Yet, going beyond the urban areas to sub-urban and rural areas, most of the old customs regarding Ramadan are still in full swing. Although the influence of the social media is changing the Ramadan dynamics in those areas, it is still quite low compared to that of the urban areas.
Again, the coronavirus pandemic has also been guilty of curbing the festivity of Ramadan as people were and still are not able to roam freely in the two Ramadans that occurred during the peak heights of the pandemic.
Nevertheless, culture is a very dynamic thing to begin with. The present Ramadan culture might be quite different and less festive from that of the past. But judging by the circumstances, we can never know for sure if the current scenario regarding Ramadan is going to persist in the future.
Rassiq Aziz Kabir is a student of economics at the University of Dhaka. Email: [email protected]