10 Common Birth Rituals and Traditions in the Middle East

Babies are considered one of the most precious gifts in Middle Eastern culture. For this reason, welcoming a newborn to the family is a moment of celebration that goes along with generation-old traditions and rituals.

In this article, I’ll tell you all you need to know about Muslim birth rituals and customs in Middle Eastern culture.

1. Giving Birth is a Family Affair

Arab culture is known for the high importance of family ties. What distinguishes Middle Eastern birth rituals from other parts of the world is the strong support that new mothers will get by their family members.

For this reason, many Arab women that live abroad opt to travel back to their home countries to give birth. Delivering a baby amongst their family allows them to take advantage of the support of the family members, and adhere to Islamic birth rituals.

2. Attending the Birth

On the highly anticipated due date, the mother-to-be is usually accompanied to the hospital by her husband and her mom. Her sister, mother in law or sister in law might also attend the birth from the start in order to offer support. However, similar to western culture, only the husband is allowed in the labor room with his expecting wife. Other family members, especially brothers and brother in laws will only come to the hospital after the baby is born.

Once the baby is born and after mother and baby have had their magic hour, the baby is whisked away to be cleaned and swaddled in a special cloth called the Koofaliyah. The new mom is then taken to her room where her parents, siblings, and in-laws are waiting to congratulate her.

The phrase used to congratulate someone on their newborn is mabrouk ma’a ajakem which loosely translates to “congratulations on what you have received.”

3. Dua for a Newborn Baby

Religion plays an important role in birth rituals. In Islam, life is seen as a gift from God and it’s important to seek his blessings. As soon as the baby is born, a special Dua or prayer is made for a newborn baby which is barek allah lak fe al mawhoub or “God bless this gift” (the gift refers to the newborn).

Another important Islamic ritual that is carried out by the father or the grandfather of the newborn is whispering the Athan (call to prayer) in the right ear of the baby and the Iqama (the second call to prayer) in the left ear. This is considered a great honor to be delegated from the father.

4. Tahneek

Tahneek is another Islamic ritual which is also usually performed by an elderly family member such as the grandfather. During this birth ritual, a date is rubbed against the lips and mouth of the baby so that the newborn tastes something sweet when it first arrives to the world. It is believed that a small quantity of sugar can protect premature babies from brain damage.

5. Gifts for the Mother and the Newborn

Gift giving is very popular in Middle Eastern culture. When it comes to gifts after the birth, there are multiple moments to do so.

First, the husband is expected to offer a gift to his wife after giving birth. This is usually some sort of gold jewelry and can range from something very simple to extremely extravagant.

Secondly, family members meeting the newborn baby in the hospital room are expected to put money in the baby’s Koofaliyah (cloth) as a gift. This money is called Nokoot.

Most families prepare a tray or a small table with chocolates. It can range from a simple box of chocolates to a full display of balloons and an entire table of chocolates, accessories and giveaways. The design usually has the color of the gender of the baby (pink for girls and blue for boys), the baby’s name written and some theme chosen by the parents. This birth ritual is called Dyafeh and takes place at the hospital.

While the mom and the newborn are at the hospital, close friends and relatives are welcome to visit. Visits usually take place the day after the birth. Coffee and chocolates are served continuously for as long as the new mom is at the hospital.

If you’re visiting a close friend and her newborn in the hospital, you’re welcome to bring a small gift with you (chocolates are a perfect gift idea during the visit at the hospital). Once the mom and her newborn are home, the babyshower will take place where friends are expected to give gifts. I’m explaining this more in detail below.

6. Rituals on the 7th Day

The Aqeeqah is a ritual carried out when an animal is sacrificed on the seventh day after a baby is born. A feast then follows where the meat is distributed amongst family and friends as well as donated to the poor.

If the baby is a boy two animals are sacrificed. If it is a girl, only one animal is sacrificed. This ritual is a way of expressing gratitude to God for being blessed with a child.

Another ritual that also takes place on the seventh day is the shaving of the baby’s head. The shaven hair is then weighed and its equivalent weight in silver or gold is given to charity.

7. Baby Shower (Mobarakeh)

Western countries will usually throw baby showers for the expecting mother to help her acquire the many needed items in preparation for the newborn’s arrival. In Arab culture, there is a similar gift giving celebration known as the Mobarakeh. However, it usually takes place after the birth of the baby, not before.

During the Mobarakeh, members and friends of the family come to congratulate the new mom and offer gifts to the baby. It can happen on one day or be split on two separate occasions, where one day the friends and family of the mother visit, and another day friends and family of the father come.

8. Cinnamon Tea and Karawya

In Jordan as well as other parts of the Middle East, you can literally know when someone has given birth by the smell of cinnamon!

Cinnamon is believed to speed up recovery after giving birth. That said, cinnamon tea is the drink served on repeat in families with a newborn. Another common food served after giving birth is Karawya. Karawya is a type of sweet rice pudding made from rice flour, cinnamon, sugar and caraway with nuts and raisins previously soaked in rose water. You’ll also commonly find nuts being served, as walnuts are said to stimulate milk production.

9. Circumcision

Another important Islamic birth ritual that takes place usually right after the birth of a baby boy is male circumcision, known as Tuhoor. This procedure is believed to encourage cleanliness and reduce the risk of infections. It is recommended to have the circumcision performed by a professional or even a doctor.

Some parents choose to postpone the Tuhoor ritual until puberty, however, most parents perform the circumcision at a young age, sometimes as soon as the baby is born.

By the way, in the Middle East, circumcision is only done for males. Female circumcision is not common.

10. The 40 Days after Birth

One of the best parts of giving birth in Middle Eastern culture is the strong family support given to new mothers.

After giving birth, a lot of things change in life, especially after having a first child. Going out for grocery shopping, cleaning the house and cooking isn’t something a new mother is expected to do. That’s where the family comes into play.

In Middle Eastern culture, there is a concept of the 40 days after birth, also known as Nifas. That’s the period where recovery takes place. During this time, new moms are encouraged to stay at home to regain strength and take care of the newborn. Close family members, usually mom and the grandmothers, will come over frequently during these 40 days to support the new mom by cooking food, taking care of household chores and any other needs.

The baby’s first bath is also a very important event and it is usually done by one of the grandmothers during this time.

While the unique customs and traditions in welcoming a newborn may differ in each Arab country, the entire Arab World is unified in its rituals that are deeply rooted in religious beliefs. Although these traditions have now become integrated with cultural practices, the values shown in these customs are full of gratefulness, generosity and kindness.

By the way, most Arab parents choose an Arabic name for their newborns. Be sure check out my favorite Arabic boy names and girl names for inspiration.

Explore the Arab Culture and Language

Are you interested in Arab culture or in learning Arabic? You’ve come to the right place! This blog is about all things Middle Eastern. You’ll find plenty of useful articles here to immerse yourself in the Arabic language, culture and cuisine.

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