Before the US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq in 2003, Mohamed al-Azawi worked as a university professor in Baghdad. For security reasons, he was forced to leave his wife and children during the war. He relocated to Jordan, Syria, Bahrain and finally Doha, Qatar, where he has lived since 2010. 

‘It was food that was meant to be shared’ [Photo courtesy of Mohamed Azawi]

Doha – “So you want to know about Ramadan in Iraq?” Mohamed says with a grin as he opens the door.

The house is quiet. Mohamed lives on his own for most of the year, but his wife, Hayfaa, is here today on a rare visit from Baghdad. She smiles at her husband’s enthusiasm.

“I can only tell you about Ramadan up until the war, and I won’t really be able to give you details about the food,” Mohamed adds. “My wife will be much better at that part.”

Mohamed reaches for the remote control to lower the volume on the television, “so we won’t get distracted”. Hayfaa points out that he could turn it off entirely, but he jokes: “It’s Iraqi tradition to leave the television on in the background.”

Mohamed spent his childhood in Baghdad, where the whole family would gather around the iftar dishes spread out on the floor of the family’s home: kubbab (stuffed savoury dough), threed (a special rice dish) and mahalabiya (pudding).

“When I was a little kid, we would take empty jars of jam, place candles inside them and carry them around like lanterns,” Mohamed tells Al Jazeera. He also recalls children knocking on doors of local homes, asking for candy and sweets.

Towards the end of the month, the children would excitedly wait for Eid. “We would prepare our Eid clothes during Ramadan and lay them out to wear the night before Eid,” Mohamed says. “All of the kids went to carnivals, with rides and games, and of course we got our eidiyahs [money given to children during Eid].”

While Mohamed left Iraq shortly after the 2003 invasion, his wife and four children remained in the country.

“I left Baghdad right after the invasion started, so my memories are frozen in time,” he says, noting he left amid death threats and targeted killings of hundreds of Iraqi intellectuals and academics during the war.