TIBLISI - Mukarram Nouri works as an engineer in a local petroleum company, and stays out of touch with his relatives and friends most of the year because of his tight work schedule, and inter-city trips.
However, the holy month of Ramadan provides him this opportunity to see his friends and relatives at family Iftar AND and mass Iftar two popular features of Ramadan for Georgian Muslims.
Long distances, heavy work schedules, and unavailability of Mosques are the major factors that keep Georgian Muslims, especially in Tbilisi away from each other for most of the year, Mukarram, in his late 40s told OnIslam.net.
Even close family members do not see each other for months because of work schedules, and long distances, he said.
Mukarram, an Azeri by origin, but born and brought up in Tiblisi, says that family Iftaar dinners at homes, and mass Iftaar at Saburtala Mosque, the only official Mosque in Tiblisi, provide a rare opportunity to Georgian Muslims to see each other, at least for a few times during the holy month.
Although, according to Haji Tahamais, the administrator of the Saburtala Mosque, mass Iftaar at the Mosque premises is not a permanent feature of Ramadan, however it does happen on and off, if sponsored by a group or individual.
Our group of friends have planned to sponsor a mass Iftaar at the Mosque, where not only our friends, but the foreign (Muslim) students studying here, will also be invited, Mukarram said.
Mukarram and family also plan to arrange an Iftaar dinner, which is meant to see their relatives, and family friends, whom they otherwise hardly see during 11 months of the year.
It (Ramadan) is a special month for the entire Muslim Ummah, but for us, it has a great social importance as well, Elnaz Nouri, the wife of Mukarram told OnIslam.net.
Attired in long skirt and a lose shirt, and covering her head with white scarf, Elnaz too appears to be excited about Ramadan.
My two sisters, and a brother live in and around Tiblisi, but we hardly see each other because we all are working people, Elnaz said.
Their children, who all are grown up now, are studying in different parts of Georgia, and they all get together in Ramadan, particularly in the last ten days, she maintained.
Elnaz says she waits for the annual Iftaar dinner for the whole year.
This is a gathering for which we wait for the whole year. And the reason is very simple. I see my brother, sisters, nieces and nephews after a year, she exclaimed setting the slipping headscarf on her head.
The family Iftaar dinner is preferably held on Saturday enabling her brothers and sisters to stay at her home for one night if they wish.
We congratulate each other by telephone or by sms on the eve of Ramadan. Every one seems to be happy on this occasion and wants to lead to congratulate his or her friends and family members, Elnaz maintained.
Ramadan in Georgia is likely to begin from July 20, 2012 along with the neighboring states of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia.
Saburtala Mosque having a capacity of 500, is the only big Mosque in Tiblisi, home of around 10,000 Muslims.
Nuzebezi street is all famous in Tiblisi for being home of some 1500 Muslims, majority from Azeri-Shiite origin.
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 are concentrated along the border with Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Shiite and Sunni Muslims break the fast together at mass Iftaar, but at their respective times.
There is no issue of Shiite and Sunni here, Haji Tahamais, the Mosque administrator told OnIslam.net.
Shiite and Sunnis get together in mass Iftaar or even in small groups, and break fast at their respective time, he pointed out.
Sometimes, both sects offer prayer behind a Sunni Imam, and sometimes behind a Shiite Imam.
You cannot say whether it is a Sunni Mosque or Shiite Mosque. This is a Muslim's Mosque, Haji said when asked who leads the prayers.
According to local Muslim leaders, the total population of Muslims in this former USSR state is around 1 million out of total 5 million. However, government sources say that Muslim population is between 400,000 and 500,000.
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, however there numbers are in hundreds.
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.