Religious traditions have been ingrained in my life ever since I was a child. Living in Lahore, I have had a very colorful experience with various religious customs.
Lahore is the cultural capital of Pakistan.
Muslims make up the majority of population in Lahore. But there are plenty of Christian, Hindu and Sikh societies merged in.
The resulting mix of different cultures makes for an exciting society with plenty of yearly religious traditions.
Born and raised in a Muslim family, I followed the religion of Islam just as my parents taught me. However, it was after I became a teenager that I started to explore and understand the significance of different religions.
This might surprise you, but the best part of living in Lahore?
You don’t need to be a practicing believer of any faith to take part in these traditions. You may as well be a liberal or an atheist, but you can partake in these events all the same.
Here is a list of religious and spiritual traditions that you’ll find in Lahore, a central hub of different cultures:
Religious traditions in Lahore
Did you know that the history of Lahore contains an accumulation of different cultures, over a span of 2000 years?
The roots of these religious traditions lie in the religion of Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism and other various religions.
However, I will mainly focus on how we specifically observe these traditions in Lahore. Hence, the following may or may not depict how the rest of the world observes these traditions.
Although, much of these events, or at least in the manner that we observe them, are native to Lahore only.
Let’s start with the list of these amazing religious traditions in Lahore:
Friday Prayers (Jumma)
Muslims, all over the world, observe this event every Friday around noon. It is but an integral part of Islamic tradition, in all sects of Islam.
They pause their routinely life and gather up in the nearest Mosque or an open area and offer congregational prayers. The prayers are short and require one Imam (The person who leads the prayers).
All the educational institutions, government faculties and majority of the private departments, allow a break for Jumma prayers.
Although, only males are expected to offer Friday prayers, there is no restriction for females to offer as well. Some places, such as the place I visit, have a separate row of females who offer their prayers.
This is one of the religious traditions that is primarily observed by males.
It’s the perfect escape from the busy bee life. To be able to gather at one place with your friends or family and take some time out for meditation.
Personally, I always like to travel to the Shrine of the revered Saint Huzur Mian Mir (ra) for Jumma prayers. Because I’ve personally read about this Sufi Saint, and my admiration for him inspires my faith.
This place is a sanctuary for people of all creed, culture and class. Hence, you’ll find government officials, beggars and everyone in between, all here to experience the serenity.
Eid Milad un Nabi
Muslims have their own Islamic calendar; it also has 12 months just like the Gregorian calendar. However, it is based on the lunar calendar and it changes based on the sighting of the moon.
Like Christmas, Muslims celebrate Eid Milad un Nabi on the 12th of Rabiul Awal (3rd Month in Islamic Calendar). On this day, We commemorate the birth of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
Entire city of Lahore comes to life on this day.
Muslims decorate houses and streets with lighting and various glowing lamps. As well as preparing a variety of food as charity for the public.
Youngsters like to come out on the street and sing naat (Words said in the praise of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ). You can hear the chants and songs throughout the day.
If convenient, I always start my day by fasting. Fasting is my way of showing gratitude and appreciation. Moreover, it also does wonders for my health as my diet is very unstable.
I mostly spend the day outside with my friends. We tour the streets and often times visit a Shrine and appreciate the liveliness due to this auspicious day.
As a Muslim living in Lahore, of all the religious traditions, this day feels the most significant to me.
Fasting in the month of Ramadan
Ramadan is the 8th month of Islamic lunar calendar. For this entire month, Muslims from all over the world observe fasting.
Just like many other religious traditions, this one is not native to Muslims only. In fact, Christians and Jews have observed fasting long before the inception of Islam.
A person does not need to be religious to indulge in this month-long tradition.
In fact, Fasting has proven health benefits as well.
The month of Ramadan is very spiritual, as the routine of fasting brings families and communities a lot closer. It teaches the concept of a positive and caring society.
We observe fasting by restricting ourselves from eating or drinking for a certain amount of time.
We start our day by waking up around an hour before dawn (around 3 am in summers) and eating breakfast. This will be the only food we eat till afternoon. We call this Sehri. Then we break our fast by eating at afternoon, also known as Aftari.
People always give charity, by buying food for the poor so that they may also partake in Sehri and Aftari.
The hunger we feel throughout the day helps us attain better self-control and aids in better health. As well, helping us experience the feeling of less fortunate people who live on hunger everyday.
The essence of an Islamic society is to understand this feeling of mutuality. Ultimately, using it as motivation to be more caring and compassionate towards each other.
Personally, I have always enjoyed fasting ever since I was a kid. The time spent together at Sehri and Aftari is very enjoyable. We prepare a variety of meals and often times we’d have gatherings with friends and family.
Eid ul Azha
The technical definition of Eid is an event that happens once a year. Eid ul Azha is one of the two major Eids. Muslims observe both these religious traditions globally.
Known as The Festival of Sacrifice, its date aligns with the end of Hajj (Pilgrimage).
Muslims commemorate this tradition in the memory of Prophet Ibrahim (as) and his son Prophet Ismail (as). Also known as Abraham and Ishmael in Christianity and Judaism.
Muslims, with respect to their income, sacrifice animals in order to distribute the meat to others and for themselves. Commonly sacrificed animals are goats, cows and sometimes even camels.
Something you should know about Muslims, they don’t exactly use slaughter house machinery. Their meat comes from animals directly slaughtered by a butcher. They severe the jugular vein of the animal first, to ensure that it feels the least amount of pain.
All of these requirements and traditions signify the importance of halal meat; to treat animal with kindness and not cruelty.
Traditionally, they divide the meat into three portions. For the needy and the poor, for the neighbors and family, and the last portion is kept for themselves.
Although I enjoy beef and chicken as well, but some of the goat and lamb meat dishes are too good.
My family always gets a goat or two for this Eid day, and sometimes even a cow. We used to buy the goats a week before because we wanted to play with them when we were young.
Losing the goat was always a downer, but that’s one way of realizing where your meat comes from!
Eid ul Fitr
This is the other major Eid in Islam, besides Eid ul Azha.
Muslims observe this religious tradition on the first day of Shawwal (10th month in Islamic calendar). This is a day of joy, Muslims all over the world celebrate this day to mark the end of Ramadan. Its meant to be a reward for fasting for the whole month.
They start the day by offering congregational prayers in any nearby Mosque around 8am. After the Eid prayers, men greet each other, traditionally by hugging. While the mothers and sisters wait for their families to return home and taste their deliciously prepared meals.
Every family prepares various meals and distributes it to the neighbors and communities.
We’ve always had guests at our home on this day, and my mom’s cooking never disappoints them.
Both these Eid are religious traditions that are heaven for the meat lovers. All the main dishes on this day revolve around meat. But there are plenty of side dishes to go with, for the vegetarian fellows.
Since it’s a national holiday on this day, there is no stress of work or school for the people.
We always host family gatherings on this joyous occasion, you can relate it to Thanksgiving.
It is also customary for the elders to reward the youth, either by giving some gift or pocket money.
Honestly, as a kid, this was the day for me to leech pocket money from my family elders.
My family would use this day to meet up with relatives, but for me it was different.
Behind that innocent smile, was my intent to get money for those expensive toys that my parents wouldn’t buy me!
Muharram (9th & 10th)
Muslims consider Muharram (First month in Islamic calendar) as the month of sorrow. However, Muharram is also significant for Jews.
The 9th and 10th of Muharram holds two significant religious traditions:
First one represents sorrow. Imam Hussain (as) embraced martyrdom in the battlefield of Karbala along with most of his family. He was the grandson of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
Second one represents freedom. It is when Prophet Moses (as), known as Musa (as) in Islam, freed the Jews from the tyranny of Pharoah. As well as sending him to his demise along with his army.
First is only significant to Muslims, while second is significant to both Muslims and Jews.
Majority of the Muslims, and as well as the Jews, fast on this day.
All of the Muslims feel sorrow regarding the battle of Karbala, in the memory of Imam Hussain (as). However, only Muslims belonging to Shia sect hold mourning ceremonies as well.
To respect and believe in all the predecessor Prophets (as) is a part of Islamic faith.
I always start both these day by fasting in memory of both these events.
The word Urs literally means ‘Death Anniversary’. The passing of a Sufi Saint is not a sorrowful day. Muslims cherish this day as the day when the Sufi Saint finally meets his beloved, God.
Thousands of people show up, from all over the world, to pay their respects for the Sufi Saint’s Urs.
There are many revered Saints that rest in Lahore. Hence, there are plenty of Urs events that you can find each year.
Some of the most famous are the following:
Note, the word Data used here is an Urdu language word, which means “Someone who bestows”. As well, the word Darbar means “Shrine”.
The Sufi Saint, Ali Hujveri, was given this title of Data Ganj Baksh, because of the treasures (such as knowledge, charity, faith) he bestowed to the people.
The shrine of Huzur Ali Hujveri, Data Darbar, hosts the biggest Urs event on 19/20/21 of Safar (2nd Islamic Month).
About 1,000,000 people visit over the span of 3 days to pay their respects.
Also, this shrine is almost 1000 years old now!
This is an Urs event in the memory of Sufi Saint and Poet, Shah Hussain.
Buried next to him is his friend, Madho Lal Hussain. He abandoned his religion, Hinduism, and converted to Islam to follow this Saint.
Known as The Festival of Lights. Devotees keep the fire ablaze for 72 hours as a symbol of the inner fire of the Saint.
Mian Mir Darbar
Another famous Sufi Shrine belongs to Huzur Mian Mir (ra). We celebrate his Urs on 6th and 7th of Rabiul Awal (3rd Month in Islamic Calendar). Huzur Mian Mir (ra) once famously said:
“When I am alive, I am like a sword in its sheath. But death removes me from my sheath.”
Sufi Saints consider their mortal lives as shackles. They long for the life after death, where they can meet their beloved.
I have attended many Urs events, mainly at Data Darbar and Mian Mir Darbar, and these spiritual traditions are as colorful as it gets.
People of all color and religion crowd the Shrine. The Shrine remains lively all day and night.
Cultural dances, Qawwali music and poetry are common activities. As for some, this is their manner of paying respects to the Sufi Saint.
The scent of burning candles and the festive lighting, brings life to what would normally be considered a grave.
People observe these religious traditions in the memory of Sufi Saints all around the world. However, Lahore hosts these Urs events in the most unique manner as compared to others.
The zeal and devotion of these followers feels unmatched. As well as the colorful culture and the atmosphere during these Urs events.
Christians celebrate Christmas in the memory of Jesus Christ, known as Hazrat Isa (as) in Islam, to honor his birth. For all the Christian sects, Christmas is one of the biggest annual religious traditions.
However, what most people don’t know is that Christmas is also significant in Islam.
Muslims hold dearly to Jesus Christ (as) as a predecessor Prophet in Islam, and to celebrate his birthday is mentioned in the Holy Quran itself:
“And peace be upon him the day he was born and the day he dies and the day he is raised alive. [Quran 19:15]”
Christians and Muslims celebrate Christmas on 25th of December every year in Lahore.
Muslims may not follow the Santa clause tradition, but they understand the spirit of Christmas, birth of Jesus Christ (as).
Shopping malls become crowded preceding this day, with people buying gifts for their loved ones.
Although it doesn’t snow in Lahore, the passionate devotees keep the snowy Christmas spirit alive by making snowy decorations.
I do not have any Christian friends in Lahore; however, I do have a lot of Christian friends abroad. I always wish them a warm Merry Christmas.
Easter is a global Christian tradition to mark the resurrection of Jesus Christ (as). As mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible.
Although Muslims do not affiliate themselves with this tradition, they still respect and appreciate this tradition in Lahore.
The date varies between March to April. But in 2019, Christians celebrated Easter on the 21st of April in all churches in Lahore.
There are over 100+ established churches in Lahore.
Sunday, being a weekly holiday in Lahore, makes it the perfect day for the Christian communities to partake in Church. Afterwards, they relax from their work and celebrate Easter with their families.
Street vendors are always selling colorful Easter Eggs on this occasion. The street culture of Lahore is also very unique and exciting.
TV channels always broadcast the local Church sermons, as the message of peace and unity is always the focus.
Both Easter and Christmas are religious traditions that are not only observed in the West, but here as well.
Holi is one of the biggest religious traditions in Hinduism, and they celebrate it to mark the arrival of spring.
Known as The Festival of Colors, it highlights the victory of good over evil.
Although Hindu community in Lahore is in minority, but on this special occasion, their cheerful presence does not go unnoticed.
Hindus celebrate on this day by covering themselves in various colors of dye, powder and other paints.
There are not many operational temples in Lahore, but Hindu community does not let this hinder their festival. They use other places to hold festive gatherings, like someone’s house or some public park.
Government of Lahore ensures that the ongoing conflicts between Pakistan and India do not disrupt this religious tradition.
A happy Holi to all the Hindu communities in Lahore on this joyous occasion.
Baisakhti is one of the many religious traditions, native to Punjab region. Sikhs and Hindus celebrate this event, and it also marks the new year for Sikhs.
They call it The Harvest Festival, in which they thank God for the plentiful harvest and future fortune.
Every year, on 13th of April, Sikhs travel to Lahore to celebrate this tradition.
They pay visit to the historical Sikh Shrines. Namely, the famous Gurdwara Dera Sahib Temple and Samadhi of Ranjit Singh Temple.
Government of Lahore, as per the signed treaty, ensures that all the Sikh pilgrims are granted visa to practice their religious tradition with freedom.
I have also visited the Gurdwara Dera Sahib Temple, as it is adjacent to the infamous Badshahi Masjid in Lahore. It is quite a fascinating shrine and it highlights the faith of Sikhs and their devotion to it.
Lahore lives up to its reputation for possessing a variety of different cultures and religions. Every year millions of devotees celebrate these religious traditions with utmost zeal and fervor.
The world seems to be becoming more and more intolerant towards certain religions and practices. However, this does not affect the people of Lahore who continue to partake in their religious traditions.
As well, I hope this highlights the similarities in different religions and how they are essentially connected at some level.
I have only ever admired all the types of religion that I have come across in Lahore. Even though I haven’t partaken in some of them, I have always respected the people, their passion and devotion.
Moreover, I am looking forward to the next year, as I plan to further engage myself with more religious traditions!
The peace and unity, shown by the people of Lahore, for each respective tradition is immense. I hope it becomes a source of inspiration for everyone to show respect towards each other’s faith.
Have you ever been to Lahore and experienced any of the above religious traditions?
Perhaps you have experienced them in some other country. How different would you say is the culture and event?
As well, if I missed out some major religious traditions, let me know in the comments below.