TIBLISI - Haji Tahamais is busy giving final touches to Ramadan calendar to distribute among Muslims across Georgia ahead of the beginning of the holy fasting month.
The month of Ramadan has always been very special for the Muslims in Georgia, even during the days of Soviet occupation, Haji Tahamais, 51, the administrator of the only mosque in the capital Tiblisi, told OnIslam.net.
They wait for this holy month with great excitement.
Sitting at the small entrance of the mosque in Saburtala, a hilly area in the north of Tiblisi, Haji Tahamais is very excited to talk about Ramadan.
We usually finalize this (Ramadan calendar) at least a month before the fall of Ramadan, and dispatch to almost all the citizens and towns, where even a few Muslims reside so that they would not have any problem vis-Ã -vis Suhoor and iftar timings, he said.
The calendar, which contains a schedule for suhoor and iftar as well as the prayers timings, is also uploaded on internet.
Conditions in a Muslim country and an Orthodox Christian Georgia are completely different, Haji Tahamais said.
Contrary to a Muslim state, you do not hear Azan (call for prayers) here, (and) you do not find any change or relaxations in working hours, therefore, we follow this calendar, he said.
People usually do not offer five-time prayers in the mosque except Fridays, but in Ramadan there are small and big groups who break their fast at the Mosque.
The number of people who break their fast in the mosque varies, he maintained.
Even those who do not come to the mosque in normal days, they too appear at least on Fridays, he said.
Ramadan is the holiest month in Islamic calendar.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
Muslims dedicate their time during the holy month to be closer to Allah through prayers, self-restraint and good deeds.
It is customary for Muslims to spend part of the days during Ramadan studying the Noble Qur'an.
Many men perform i`tikaf (spiritual retreat), spending the last 10 days of the month exclusively in the mosque.
Ibrahim Mohammadove, a local businessman, is one of thousands of Muslims who change their daily lifestyle during Ramadan.
I usually wake up late because I have to sit for long hours at my superstore, Ibrahim told OnIslam.net.
But In Ramadan I change the whole schedule. I sleep early, wake up for Suhoor, and after Fajr (morning) prayers, I recite from verses of the Noble Qur'an, and go to work, added Ibrahim, who turned up at the Saburtala mosque to collect the Ramadan calendar.
His Christian partner comes late to the superstore and sits late hours in lieu of Ibrahim, who leaves for home before Iftar.
I usually break fast with my family at home, except the days we are invited to Iftar parties hosted by our friends or at the mosque, Ibrahim said.
Usually, there are no regular arrangements of Iftar at the Mosque. However, sometimes special arrangements are made by the administration on behalf of wealthy Muslims.
Bordering powerful Russia in north, Turkey and Armenia in south, Azerbaijan in southeast and Black Sea in the west, Georgia is located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.
Georgia is home to 5 million people, of which Muslims make up between 9.9 percent to 10.5 percent of the total population.
A majority of Muslims inhabits in the towns and villages bordering Turkey and Azerbaijan, and hails from Turkish and Azeri origins.
There are native Georgian Muslims, who have recently embraced Islam, though their numbers are in hundreds.
A few Georgian ladies too have recently embraced Islam after marrying Pakistani and Indian Muslims who have settled in Georgia for business purpose.
Mosques in Georgia operate under the supervision of the Georgian Muslim Department, established in May 2011.
In 2010, Turkey and Georgia signed an agreement by which Turkey will provide funding and expertise to rehabilitate three mosques and to rebuild a fourth one in Georgia.
There are two major Muslim groups in Georgia. The ethnic Georgian Muslims are Sunni Hanafi and are concentrated in Autonomous Republic of Adjara of Georgia bordering Turkey.
The ethnic Azerbaijani Muslims are predominantly Shiite and are concentrated along the border with Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Meskhetian Turks are Sunni Hanafi Muslims, who are inhabitants of Meskheti region of Georgia, along the border with Turkey.Having a capacity of 500 worshippers, Saburtala mosque is the only big mosque in Tiblisi, home of around 10,000 Muslims.
A tall minaret of the mosque can be seen from a long distance.
Due to long distances, a majority of Muslims prefer to offer prayers either at work places or at their homes. However, Friday is a special day, when the mosque is packed to capacity.
Some 400 people turn up to offer Friday prayers in normal months. However in Ramadan, the numbers soar to 500 to 600, compelling us to make special arrangements for them, Haji Tahamais said.
We offer prayers behind one Imam. We are just Muslims. Both Sunnis and Shiites fund for this mosque and offer prayers together here.
Like most countries around the world, date is most popular delicacy for Georgia Muslims during Ramadan.
This is the Sunnah of noble Prophet Muhammad (be peace upon him) to break the fast with dates. We do the same here, Ibrahim, a local businessman, told OnIslam.net.
However, he said, in far flung areas, if dates are not available then Maklawah, an Arabian sweet, is used as an alternative of dates.
There is a small local production of dates in Georgia, and almost 95 percent of dates come from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and Qatar.
This year, Haji Tahamais, the mosque administrator, says some Saudi Muslims have promised to send a huge cache of dates and other commodities to distribute among Muslims in nearby villages.
This year, some things are coming from Makkah, Muhais said in his broken English with a wide smile on his face.
Various Turkish restaurants located at the famous Marjnashvili street and a couple of Iranian restaurants in old Tiblisi town also offer special Turkish and Iranian delicacies during Ramadan.
Some of these restaurants remain open at Suhoor timings, mainly for Muslim students and those who do not have families in Tiblisi.
Tavuk Gogsu, a dessert with pudding, is the most popular Turkish delight offered by Turkish restaurants during Ramadan.
Akanes, another Turkish delight, is equally popular among Georgian Muslims during Ramadan.
We give special concessions on food packages during Ramadan, Utkho Miran, manager of a Turkish restaurant, told OnIslam.net.
Iranian restaurants offer Chelo kebab (rice served with roasted meat) and Koresht (stew served with rice) for Iftar on special rates during Ramadan.
Faloodeh, an Iranian dessert, is also popular particularly among Azeri Muslims during the holy fasting month.Kacha Puri, bread cooked with cheese, is the most popular bread among Georgians. It is believed that the delight actually hails from Iranian origin and is part of both suhoor and iftar.