Ramadhan, The Month of Fasting
The Meaning of Ramadhan
Ramadhan is a special month of the year for over one billion Muslims throughout the world. It is a time for inner reflection, devotion to God, and self-control. Muslims think of it as a kind of tune-up for their spiritual lives. For Muslims, Ramadhan is a "month of blessings" marked by prayer, fasting and charity.
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. The others are: belief & testimony in The One God (Shahaadah); prayer (Salah) - five times a day at its appointed times; alms -giving (Zakat) – approx. 2.5% of fixed assets annually; and pilgrimage (Hajj) to Makkah (also spelled Mecca) at least once in a lifetime.
The third "pillar" or religious obligation of Islam, fasting has many special benefits. Among these, the most important is that it is a means of learning self-control. Due to the lack of preoccupation with the satisfaction of bodily appetites during the daylight hours of fasting, a measure of ascendancy is given to one's spiritual nature, which becomes a means of coming closer to God. Ramadhan is also a time of intensive worship, reading of the Qur'an, giving charity, purifying one's behavior, and doing good deeds.
As a secondary goal, fasting is a way of experiencing hunger and developing sympathy for the less fortunate and learning thankfulness & appreciation for all of God's bounties. Fasting is also beneficial to the health and provides a break in the cycle of rigid habits or overindulgence.
When the fast ends (the first day of the tenth month of the Islamic calendar –Shawwal) it is celebrated for three days in a holiday called 'Eid-ul-Fitr (the Feast of Fast Breaking). Gifts are exchanged. Friends and family gather to pray in congregation and for large (in the number of attendees) meals. In some cities fairs are held to celebrate the end of the Fast of Ramadhan.
Who Fasts in Ramadhan?
While voluntary fasting is recommended for Muslims, during Ramadhan fasting becomes obligatory. Sick people, travelers, and women in certain conditions are exempted from the fast but must make it up as they are able. Perhaps fasting in Ramadhan is the most widely practiced of all the Muslim forms of worship.
The Sighting of the Moon
Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The much-anticipated start of the month is based on a combination of physical sightings of the moon and astronomical calculations. The practice varies from place to place, some places relying heavily on sighting reports and others totally on calculations. In the United States, most communities follow the decision of the Islamic Society of North America, which accepts bonafide sightings of the new moon anywhere in the United States as the start of the new month. The end of the month, marked by the celebration of 'Eid-ul-Fitr (also called just “ ‘Eid “), is similarly determined.
From Dawn to Sunset
The daily period of fasting starts at the breaking of dawn and ends at the setting of the sun. In between -- that is, during the daylight hours -- Muslims totally abstain from food, drink, smoking, and sexual relations. The usual practice is to have a pre-fast meal (suhoor) before dawn and a post/break-fast meal (iftar) after sunset.
Islam follows a lunar calendar which means that the months of the year are measured according to the revolutions of the moon around the earth (each month begins with the sighting of the new moon).
Because the Islamic lunar calendar (hijri) is approximately 11 days shorter than the solar or Gregorian calendar, Islamic holidays "move" each year.
This lunar calendar gives every month an opportunity of rotating through every season completing a cycle in which every month does not exceed 29 or 30 days.
Thus, since Ramadhan begins on October 4th or 5th one year, the next year it will begin on September 24th or so. The entire cycle takes around 35 years. In this way, the length of the day, and thus the fasting period, varies in length from place to place over the years. Every Muslim, no matter where he or she lives, will see an average Ramadhan day of approximately 13.5 hours.
One may eat and drink at any time during the night "until you can plainly distinguish a white thread from a black thread by the daylight: then keep the fast until night." [2:187]
The good that is acquired through the fast can be destroyed by five things –the telling of a lie, slander, denouncing someone behind their back, a false oath, greed or covetousness.
These are considered offensive at all times, but are most offensive during the Fast of Ramadhan.
Devotion to God
The last ten days of Ramadhan are a time of special spiritual power as everyone tries to come closer to God through devotions and good deeds. The night on which the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to the Prophet, known as the Night of Power (Lailat ul-Qadr), is generally taken to be the 27th night of the month. The Qur'an states that this night is better than a thousand months. Therefore many Muslims spend the entire night in prayer.
During the month, Muslims try to read as much of the Qur'an as they can. Most try to read the whole book at least once. Some spend part of their day listening to the recitation of the Qur'an in a Mosque (Masjid).
Preservation of Qur’an
During this month Huffath (Muslims who have memorised the entire Holy Qur’an) recite a thirtieth of the Qur’an, word for word and accent for accent in congregational prayers on a daily basis after the night prayer, which is approximately an hour and a half after sunset, for the duration of the month (approx. 30 consecutive days), until they have completed the whole Qur’an.
Muslims believe this is one of the ways in which the Qur’an has remained intact since revelation more than 1400 years ago.
Food in Ramadhan
Since Ramadhan is a special time; Muslims in many parts of the world prepare certain favorite foods during this month.
It is a common practice for Muslims to break their fast at sunset with dates (from a palm tree), following the custom of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This is followed by the sunset prayer, which is followed by iftar –The actual break-fast meal. Since Ramadhan emphasizes community aspects and since everyone eats iftar at the same time, Muslims often invite one another to share in the Ramadhan evening meal, the breaking of the fast “break-fast.”
Some Muslims find that they eat less when breaking their fast during Ramadhan than at other times due to stomach contraction. However, as a rule, most Muslims experience little fatigue during the day since the body becomes used to the altered routine during the first week of Ramadhan.
The Spirit of Ramadhan
Muslims use many phrases in various languages to congratulate one another for the completion of the obligation of fasting and the 'Eid-ul-Fitr festival. Here is a sampling of them:
"Kullu am wa antum bi-khair" (May you be well throughout the year) - Arabic
"Elveda, ey Ramazan" (Farewell, O Ramadhan) - Turkish
"'Eid mubarak (A Blessed 'Eid)" - universal
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