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.
But the holy fasting month of Ramadan gives him a chance to see his friends and relatives at “family Iftar” 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.”
Mukarram, of Azeri origin, who was born and brought up in Tiblisi, says that family Iftar at home and mass Iftar at Saburtala mosque, the only official mosque in Tiblisi, provide a rare chance to Georgian Muslims to see each other.
“Our group of friends has planned to sponsor a mass Iftar 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 Iftar for his relative 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,” Elnaz Nouri, the wife of Mukarram, told OnIslam.net.
“But for us, it has a great social importance as well.”
Attired in long skirt and a loose 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.”
Elnaz says she waits for the annual Ramadan Iftar for the whole year.
“This is a gathering for which we wait for the whole year,” she told OnIslam.net.
“And the reason is very simple. I see my brother, sisters, nieces and nephews after a year,” exclaimed Elnaz, setting the slipping headscarf on her head.
The family Iftar 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 SMSs on the eve of Ramadan,” Elnaz said.
“Everyone seems to be happy on this occasion and wants to lead to congratulate his or her friends and family members.”
Ramadan began in Georgia on July 20, along with the neighboring states of Turkey, Azerbaijan Armenia and Russia.
Saburtala mosque, which has a capacity of 500 worshippers, 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 1,500 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 and are concentrated along the border with Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Shiite and Sunni Muslims break the fast together at mass Iftar, but at their respective times.
“There is no issue of Shiite and Sunni here,” Haji Tahamais, the administrator of the Saburtala mosque, told OnIslam.net.
“Shiite and Sunnis get together in mass Iftar or even in small groups, and break fast at their respective time.
“Sometimes, both sects offer prayer behind a Sunni Imam, and sometimes behind a Shiite Imam,” he said.
“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 Georgia is around one 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, but their 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.