The Ramadan tradition of Ghabga is a familiar pastime in the Gulf, to local Bahrainis and expatriates alike, where friends and family gather at night for suhoor and enjoy their last meal before sunrise.
Like many traditions, Ghabga has endured radical transformations over the past 30 years, until it became a modernised social event belonging of the 21st century, observers said.
Ghabga is no longer limited to homes or confined within the walls of private residences, but has expanded over the years to hotels, shopping malls, cafes and restaurants. Many of these venues provide outdoor tents in order to receive customers from iftar till suhoor.
Habib Hassan, a retired Bahraini in his sixties, said he is used to practicing Ghabga or eating late at night at home with members of his family, as they feast on a main dish called "al-muhammar", a dish made of Bahraini fish and rice.
"In the past, our life was simple and Ghabga during Ramadan reflected this simple reality in its positive and negative aspects," he said, adding, "At that time, we did not have modern technology, which has deprived the holy month of its spirituality."
Hassan told Al-Shorfa, "The Ghabga of past days strengthened family ties, kinship and compassion among members of the same family. It also fostered love and intimacy amongst friends and loved ones but now this tradition has turned into strange rituals."
Hassan said he longs for the past, wherein the tradition focused more on the home life.
"We would always practice Ghabga at home and would not go anywhere," he said. "What I hear today about tents, hotels, hookahs and music concerts make me yearn for our beautiful past."
Ahmed Amer, a young Bahraini, said going out for Ghabga is the highlight of Ramadan for him and his friends. Often times, they decide to visit a public place or one of the Ramadan tents in order to eat, socialise, play games and talk about sports.
"We usually choose a café or Ramadan tent at a hotel every weekend during Ramadan so we can stay up till suhoor time," Amer told Al-Shorfa. "We have lots of fun playing card games and dominoes and enjoying a varied cuisine of Middle Eastern and western dishes."
Amer said he rarely spends Ghabga with his family, as he enjoys the tradition more with his friends, by taking part in competitions and prize draws as well as enjoying music entertainment.
Amer also said Ghabga now has a modern twist, in that he and his friends frequent social networking websites during the evening, with everybody monitoring the news with their smart phones and taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi services offered in some Ramadan tents.
Tourist resort director Abu al-Khair Ibrahim said demand for such tents increases by 50% during Ramadan compared with other facilities. He told Al-Shorfa the number of Ghabga observers in Ramadan tents has steadily increased in the second half of the holy month.
Ibrahim also said many venues try to lure customers for Ghabga by introducing promotional packages, offers and competitions, as well as a varied menu of local and western dishes and beverages.
Ibrahim told Al-Shorfa that Ramadan tents contribute towards revitalising tourism traffic during Ramadan, a period marked with low hotel activities and occupancy rates.