From human alarm clocks to food festivals and night prayers, the holy month is an important time for Kashmiris. At dawn, as the valley gets shrouded in darkness, its inhabitants were fast asleep, and the sound of drums broke the silence and a voice rang out in the air: “Waqt e Sahar!” (This is location time). These are the Sehar Khans – human alarm clocks for the inhabitants of Kashmir who roam the streets during the day, playing their drums, reminding the Muslims in the valley to wake up early in the morning or to look after themselves during the fasting month of Seher, the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan begins with the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and the crescent moon in the valley. Sama or fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam and is an integral part of Ramadan around the world. Muslims believe that the fruit of every good deed is multiplied during this month, so Ramadan is also a time of prayer, generosity, reflection and abstinence from bad thoughts and deeds.
Prayers, donations and food for the month of Ramadan are characteristics of the Muslim majority valley. The streets lit up with festive colours and the mosques echoed with prayers. After a pre-prepared meal, the air is filled for prayers and hundreds of people fill the mosques and shrines, looking at the landscape of the valley. Again, this is common business for the working population – unless lunch time becomes prayer time in the afternoon. If anyone disturbs the peace at work, everyone protests: “This is Ramadan. Let’s calm down. In fact, “this is Ramadan” is a common practice in the valley – “Is this Ramadan and are you making us wait?” Or “How can you overcharge during Ramadan?” Or “I do not like to fight, it’s Ramadan.”
For fasting Kashmiris, Iftar – an evening break from Ramadan fasting – is an opportunity to dine on local delicacies such as babribiol trash (a drink made with basil seeds), firin (made with semolina and milk), Qatar (a drink from Tragakant), dishes made with custard, fruit juices, dates and mutton and chicken. To set the table for Iftar, Kashmiris line up in the afternoon outside the kandur shops that make local breads. Kandur takes special orders – so visitors can get customized breads made with extra ghee, poppy seeds and sesame seeds. Street food vendors, in their absence during the day, come to the evening markets to provide food and water for passers-by and are noisy when people try to go home to break their fast with family or friends. Those in transit during Iftar can be assured that fellow travellers or passer-by give them dates or fruits so that they can symbolically break their fast.
Most mosques and shrines also hold chadors and have an inviting iftar dinner – usually with a plate of fruit, dates and a drink. The Ramadan Food Festival at Srinagar continues till night. Organized by Loud betel, the festival was launched by the Ministry of Culture to revive nightlife in Kashmir and is in the business of popular delicacies from Iftar to Sehar. During Ramadan, Muslims offer five daily prayers. The last prayer of the night is called Isha. The Grand Mosque or Jama Masjid in the city of Srinagar sees crowds of visitors, especially on Akhiri jumma, the last Friday of Ramadan, when people from all over the city come here to offer prayers. Hazratbal Dargah, located on the banks of Dal Lake, is believed to be the relics of the Prophet Muhammad.
As charity is an integral part of this month, beggars often come to the houses in the valley to beg. Two types of charity, Zakat and Sadaqah, are obligatory for all Muslims. Zakat, the cornerstone of Islam, is a fixed percentage of the total money that a person owes to the poor, a charitable organization. During the last 10 days of the holy month, Shab-e-Qadr, which is held on odd-numbered nights (according to the Ramadan calendar), peaks in the valley. Mosques are lit with lights and filled with visitors for night prayers. It is believed that the first verses of the Holy Quran were revealed to the Prophet tonight. These days, Shab-e-Qadr usually takes place on the 27th night of Ramadan. The screen for this moment is Id-UL-Fir.