by Zabi Rashidi

 

Media Summary

Images showing Afghani Muslims during their observance of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, which involves fasting, prayer and purification and is intended to teach patience, humility, and spirituality. Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. 5th August 2011

The Holy Ramzaan

 

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which lasts 29 to 30 days. It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating and drinking and is intended to teach Muslims about patience, humility, and spirituality. Muslims fast for the sake of God and to offer more prayer than usual. Compared to the solar calendar, the dates of Ramadan vary, moving backwards by about eleven days each year depending on the moon; thus, a person will have fasted every day of the calendar year in 34 years’ time. Muslims believe Ramadan to be an auspicious month for the revelations of God to humankind, being the month in which the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.

Origins of Ramadan

 

The word Ramadan is derived from an Arabic root rm, as in words like “ramia” or “ar-rama” denoting intense heat, scorched ground and shortness of rations. Ramadan, as a name for the month, is of Islamic origin. Prior to Islam and the exclusion of intercalary days from the Islamic calendar, the name of the month was Natiq and the month fell in the warm season. The word was thus chosen as it well represented the original climate of the month and the physiological conditions precipitated from fasting. In the Qur’an, God proclaims that “fasting has been written down (as obligatory) upon you, as it was upon those before you”. According to the earliest hadith, this refers to the Jewish practice of fasting on Yom Kippur.

The Beginning of Ramadan

 

Hilal (the crescent) is typically a day (or more) after the astronomical new moon. Since the new moon indicates the beginning of the new month, Muslims can usually safely estimate the beginning of Ramadan.

There are many disagreements each year however, on when Ramadan starts. This stems from the tradition to sight the moon with the naked eye and as such there are differences for countries on opposite sides of the globe. More recently however, some Muslims are leaning towards using astronomical calculations to avoid this confusion.

For the year of 1432 Hijri, the first day of Ramadan was determined to be August 1, 2011.

Practices during Ramadan

 

Fasting

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. The month of Ramadan is the one in which the Qur’an was sent down – right Guidance to mankind, and clear signs of Guidance and Distinction of truth from falsehood. Those among you, who witness it, let him fast therein. Whoever is sick or on a journey, then a number of other days. God desires ease for you, and desires not hardship. Thus may you fulfill the number of days assigned, magnify God for having guided you, and perhaps you will be thankful.

Ramadan is a time of reflecting, believing and worshiping God. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene and irreligious sights and sounds. Sexual intercourse is allowed after you have ended your fast. During fasting intercourse is prohibited because as well as eating and drinking, one is also encouraged to resist all temptations while you are fasting. Purity of both thoughts and actions is important. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity (Zakat.

Muslims should start observing the fasting ritual upon reaching the age of puberty, so long as they are healthy, sane and have no disabilities or illnesses. The elderly, the chronically ill, and the mentally ill are exempt from fasting, although the first two groups must endeavor to feed the poor in place of their missed fasting. Also exempt are pregnant women if they believe it would be harmful to them or the unborn baby, women during the period of their menstruation, and women nursing their newborns. A difference of opinion exists among Islamic scholars as to whether this last group must make up the days they miss at a later date, or feed poor people as a recompense for days missed. While fasting is not considered compulsory in childhood, many children endeavour to complete as many fasts as possible as practice for later life. Lastly, those traveling (musaafir) are exempt, but must make up the days they miss. More specifically, Twelver Shiah define those who travel more than 14 mi (23 km) in a day as exempt.

Prayer and reading of the Qur’an

 

In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Qur’an. Some Muslims perform the recitation of the entire Qur’an by means of special prayers, called Tarawih, which are held in the mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Qur’an (Juz’, which is 1/30 of the Qur’an) is recited. Therefore the entire Qur’an would be completed at the end of the month.

Ramadan is also a time when Muslims are to slow down from worldly affairs and focus on self-reformation, spiritual cleansing and enlightenment; this is to establish a link between themselves and God through prayer, supplication, charity, good deeds, kindness and helping others. Since it is a festival of giving and sharing, Muslims prepare special foods and buy gifts for their family and friends and for giving to the poor and needy who cannot afford it; this can involve buying new clothes, shoes and other items of need. There is also a social aspect involving the preparation of special foods and inviting people for Iftar.

Iftar

 

Muslims all around the world will abstain from food and drink, through fasting, from dawn to sunset. At sunset, the family will gather the fast-breaking meal known as Iftar. The meal starts with the eating of a date just as Prophet Muhammad used to do. Then it’s time for the Maghrib prayer, which is the fourth of the five daily prayers, after which the main meal is served. In many homes, this is a simple meal of fruits and vegetables along with traditional Middle Eastern fare.

Eid ul-Fitr

 

The holiday of Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadan and the first day of the following month, after another new moon has been sighted. The Eid falls after 29 or 30 days of fasting, per the lunar sighting. Eid ul-Fitr means the Festival of Breaking the Fast; a special celebration is made. Food is donated to the poor (Zakat al-fitr); everyone puts on their best, usually new, clothes; and communal prayers are held in the early morning, followed by feasting and visiting relatives and friends. The prayer is two Raka’ah only, and it is obligatory (Wajib) prayer as opposed to the compulsory (Fard) five daily prayers. Muslims are expected to do this as an act of worship, and to thank God.