Representing Ramazan in Arts and Literature

Fri, 04, 23

Here is a compilation of examples of Ramazan being represented in creative works from across the world …

Representing Ramazan in Arts and Literature


Ramazan holds a special place for Muslims all around the world, but it hasn’t been documented well enough in arts and literature like other cultural festivities and religious months. Today, we need more stories in the form of books, films, and artwork to truly convey the message of love, sacrifice, and kindness this holy month brings with it every year.

Here is a compilation of examples of Ramazan being represented in creative works from across the world …

Ramazaniye (15th – 18th century)

In Ottoman social life beginning in the 15th century, divan poets began using Ramazan as the subject of poetry known as Ramazaniye. The works would be presented to the sultans, viziers, and rulers during the month by poets such as Endernûnlu Fâzil, and this literary form had become widespread by the 18th century. Concepts such as iftar, suhoor, fasting, oil lamps, and Eid are discussed in their religious, cultural, and folkloric aspects. Furthermore, it has been suggested by scholars such as Hulusi Eren, that the Ramazaniye composed by 18th century poet Nedim is significant for its reflection on the social life and social structures of the time.

Divan of Hafez (1527)

The Divan of the 14th century Persian poet Hafez is well known and contains ghazals (sonnet-like verses), ruba’is (quatrains), qasidas (odes), and qit’as (fragments).

By the 16th century, however, copies of the Divan began to contain illustrations. Among the most celebrated is the copy which includes a miniature by painter Soltan-Muhammad Iraqi depicting a meal being served and prayers being recited upon the sighting of the new moon ahead of the Eid-ul-Fitr.

Miss Tully’s Letters from Tripoli (1783)

While the accounts of Ramazan recorded by Muslim travelers are far more authoritative, there are some interesting observations found in travelogues and letters authored by non-Muslims. One such example are the letters from Miss Tully who was the sister-in-law of the British Consul in Tripoli and who had access to the Bashaw/Pasha and his family.

She describes Ramazan in June 1783:

Representing Ramazan in Arts and Literature

“During the whole of this fast the true Mussulmans taste nothing from sun-rise till sun-set. A guard is appointed merely for the purpose of passing through every part of the city at dawn of day, which is the hour when the Moors announce their adan, or first prayers. This guard warns the people in time, to make a hot meal before sun-rise, that they may be enabled to wait for food till sun-set. The people are summoned by a most uncouth noise made by this guard, who carries with him a tin vessel or box, with pieces of loose iron in it...

Those who can, sleep the greatest part of the day; but the Bey and the rest of the Bashaw’s sons divert themselves in riding out on the sands, almost every day during the Ramadan. After several hours hard racing they retire to lazero, or afternoon prayer, to one of the Bashaw’s palaces out of town, and undressing themselves bathe in a Gebbia (a large reservoir of spring water in the garden, shaded with mulberry trees). This is all the refreshment they take in the most violent heats. They never fail to be in town by sun-set, the hour of breaking the fast.”

Paintings by Azim Azimzade (1930s)

Ramadan in the House of Varli or Ramadan of the Rich People (1932) is a painting by Azim Azimzade (1880-1943), an artist and caricaturist from Azerbaijan. Azimzade was self-taught and began his career in 1906 producing works that comment on social contradictions and customs in Azerbaijan. Though his work largely contained negative images, he often offset them with sharp humour and soft satire. This particular painting is often contrasted with Azimzade’s 1938 work Ramadan of the Poor People. When viewed together some interpretations highlight the representation of the spiritual superiority of the poor.

Sant Yalla by Youssou N’Dour (2003)

In November of 2003, during Ramazan, Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour released a new album entitled Sant Yalla. The album’s name means “praise God” in Wolof, N’Dour’s native language and the lingua franca of Senegal. Musically, it was a radical departure from N’Dour’s typical mbàllax dance rhythm and instead makes use of Senegalese kora and percussion players who are accompanied by an Egyptian orchestra under the baton of Fathy Salama. The songs are devotional in nature praising Allah and venerating Sufi saints and marabouts of Senegal.

The album was not without controversy and a documentary entitled Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love was released in 2008 exploring the cultural controversy around the album’s recording and its release.

Soulful Ramadan by Tompi (2010)

To non-Bahasa speakers, the lead single from Indonesian singer Tompi’s 2010 album sounds like a fun pop song about love. With a groovy beat and catchy melody it is something of a surprise to learn that the song is in fact about Ramazan (as as is the rest of the album). The chorus is about the joy of Ramazan and the lyrics include:

“Prostrate in the middle of the night

Do dhikr and pray

Call the name of Allah

And don’t forget to give zakat

Fulfil obligations

Purify the soul

As a human being on the fitra”

Representing Ramazan in Arts and Literature

The Mahya Lights (1854)

In 1854, the French writer Theophile Gautier described what he saw from his hotel in Beyoglu, Istanbul:

“On the other side of the Golden Horn, Constantinople glows and sparkles, like the crown of carbuncles of an oriental emperor. The minarets blaze with rows of lamps from all their galleries; and from spire to spire run, in fiery letters, verses of the Kuran, written upon the azure as on the pages of a Divine book.”

Guatier had witnessed the Ottoman Ramazan tradition of mahya lights - lights strung between a mosque’s minarets depicting flowers, fountains, Allah’s Names, phrases from the Quran and messages such as “Welcome Ramadan”. In addition to providing a spiritual message, the mahya lamps also illuminated the Istanbul streets for people eating and socializing after iftar.

Some claim that the tradition began in 1616 when Hafiz Ahmet Kefevi, a calligrapher and imam’s assistant at the Fatih Mosque, hung the first mahya between two minarets of the Blue Mosque. Initially oil-lit, today mosques in Istanbul use LED lights to continue the tradition and there are five master electricians who install and maintain the mahya lights for the five main mosques of Istanbul.

‘Procession at the end of Ramadan’ from The Magamat (1236)

The Magamat is an Arabic collection of 50 anecdotes and stories written in a mix of verse and literary prose by al- Hariri al-Basri (1054 1122). Describing his work, al-Hariri wrote that it was filled with “language, serious and light, jewels of eloquence, verses from the Qur’an, choice metaphors, Arab proverbs, grammatical riddles, double meanings of words, discourses, orations and entertaining jests.”

During al-Hariri’s lifetime, his text which is regarded as one the highest forms of the Arabic language, was not illustrated. However, by the 13th century, illustrated editions began to appear most notably the edition from 1236. This edition was illustrated by al-Wasiti, a painter and calligrapher from Baghdad. Not only does it contain a miniature entitled ‘Procession at the end of Ramadan’, this particular manuscript was also completed in Ramazan.

The Travels of Ibn Jubayr (1182)

While the obligatory aspects of Ramazan are well-known, the month is celebrated differently throughout the world.

These peculiarities and differences were documented by travelers and one such example is Ibn Jubayr, the famous traveler from Al-Andalus who was born into a noble family from Valencia in 1145.

Ibn Jubayr was in Mecca during Ramazan and described suhoor: a muezzin was assigned to remind people about the time of suhoor and would start to supplicate, signaling that people should have their pre-dawn meal. Ibn Jubayr further describes how lamps were lit for people that lived a distance from the Sacred Mosque and could not hear the muezzin. During the time of suhoor, two lamps would be lit and raised, then lowered and extinguished before the calling of the adhaan.

Furthermore, Ibn Jubayr describes how during taraweeh, candles and lanterns were sent to the haram by merchants and were lit until the entire mosque was brightened and shining with light.

- Compiled by SG