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ramadan in karbala
vinegar and mint juice, and religion in the park

Ibrahim al-Jibouri
As the important Muslim holiday of Ramadan draws to a close this week, locals in Karbala talk about their local traditions and why nobody makes Ramadan chicken the way they do.
7.08.2013  |  Karbala

The mostly conservative Iraqi city of Karbala has its own specific traditions during the Ramadan, a month long Muslim holiday during which observant Muslims fast during the day. Ramadan takes place at different times every year and this year it ends on August 8 with the holiday of Eid.

One of the Ramadan traditions Karbala is well known for is the production of Saknajbil juice. It involves a mixture of vinegar and mint fermenting together. Karbala locals also buy a variety of special sweets for Ramadan. During the days of the month of Ramadan observant Muslims will fast during the day. They eat breakfast but they won\'t eat anything else until after sunset – this is supposed to make people think more of spiritual things as well as those less fortunate than them. After sunset, they will break their fast together with friends and family. This is why special foods are always on sale during Ramadan – and locals say many in Karbala tend to purchase their own special ramadan foods rather than buy them at the local markets because they\'re very expensive there. As an example, the popular snack baklava is sold for around IQD20,000.

The meals people eat here at Ramadan are also slightly different, with a lot of culinary influences coming from Iran. Many say that only the people of Najaf, another Iraqi city known for its religious devotion and as a theological centre, can prepare these kinds of meals as well as those in Karbala, they say.

Between the two meals of the day, Karbala\'s parks are full of fasting families. It\'s a conservative city and one will often find locals reading the Koran in a park. In Baghdad, locals say, people tend to spend all their time indoors because of the intense summer heat whereas in Karbala, many people will spend more time outdoors during Ramadan.

“My family and I dedicate one day each week to spending a day in one of the public parks,” local family man Hamid Nassar told NIQASH. “We take food with us and we enjoy nature away from our daily routines at home. There are a lot of other families in these parks and its a really enjoyable experience.”

Another custom in Karbala is the exchange of food and sweets between families as a way of honouring the dead. This exchange is called “the exchange of heavenly rewards”.

“We talk with other people and ask them about the deceased in their families and read them religious verse,” another local Haja Umm Hanan explained.

Unsurprisingly with all the people on the streets in Karbala there are also special security plans in force. “Police are deployed in the streets and there are patrols on the streets day and night,” Colonel Ahmed al-Hasnawi, a spokesman for the Karbala police, told NIQASH. “We deploy near coffee shops and restaurants where there are a lot of people and we also decided to lift the curfew in order to allow people to spend time outside their homes in the evenings.”