Ramadan: what you need to know

Ramadan: what you need to know

Fasting is one of the highest forms of Islamic worship. Abstinence from earthly pleasures and curbing evil intentions and desires is regarded as an act of obedience and submission to Allah as well as an atonement for sins, errors, and mistakes.

Fasting takes place mainly in the month called Ramadan which is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. Adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex from the moment when it first starts to get light until sunset.

The first evening of Ramadan

The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle. The month of Ramadan is the ninth month and begins with a combination of the sighting of the new moon and astronomical calculations. So, Ramadan moves forward by ten or eleven days each year

The exact time of Ramadan sometimes varies from place to place as some rely heavily on the moon sightings while others depend on science. So in many places around the world Muslims will be looking to the heavens in the evening at the end of the eighth month. They will be interested in knowing if they will be able to see the crescent moon. If it is visible this will be the signal for the beginning of the month of Ramadan. (In most countries religious authorities will make a proclamation concerning the beginning of Ramadan). No fasting will take place till tomorrow morning. Muslims will rise early to eat their breakfast before the day begins. Afterwards they will not have anything else to eat or drink till nightfall. This will be their daily experience during the next 30 days. The fasting period ends upon the sighting of the next new moon, which occurs after 29 or 30 days.

The Special Feeling of Ramadan

Ramadan brings out a special feeling of emotional excitement and religious zeal among Muslims of all ages. Though fasting is mandatory only for adults, children as young as eight willingly observe fasting with their elders. Children look forward to the excitement of sighting the moon and eating special meals with their families. Adults appreciate the opportunity to double their rewards from Allah and seek forgiveness for past sins. As Ramadan emphasizes Muslim brotherhood and community all feel a particular closeness.

Many Muslims volunteer to shine up mosques in preparation for the month of Ramadan. They paint walls, clean floors and buy new furniture to welcome the sea of worshippers during the holy fasting month. “We are preparing the mosque for Ramadan,” the Imam of a local Mosque told me. Loudspeakers have been added to carry the recitation of the Qur’an during the Tarawih (special nightly prayers Muslims perform during Ramadan). “This is how we show our joy welcoming the holy fasting month,” says the Imam.

Violence heats up during Ramadan

Many Muslims admit to being more irritable during Ramadan. Less food and sleep appear to cause an increase in violent behaviour, sociologists and security services in Muslim countries agree. Tensions can run high during Ramadan leading street vendors and other Muslim citizens to hurl insults at one another.

It never crossed Abdallah’s mind that he would one day be responsible for his own brother’s death in Morocco. Just before iftar (breaking the fast) on September 13th , 2008, a heated argument in their Casablanca home quickly got out of control.

Hicham is now dead after Abdallah bludgeoned him with an iron bar.

Abdallah is an addict who was abstaining from drugs to show respect for the holy month of Ramadan. People believe that is perhaps why he lost control of himself.

Although extreme, he is but one example of a general increase in violence during Ramadan, when smokers are off nicotine for most of the day, addicts are off drugs, and people often contend with the exhaustion that comes from less sleep and more hunger.

Ramadan calls Muslims to tolerance, forbearance and endurance of hunger and thirst, which is what many fasting Muslims strive to achieve. For some, however, the difficulty makes them more prone to committing transgressions.

It is clear, observers say, why some people become easily irritated during the month. “Some see fasting as an obligation and therefore resort to hostile actions as a protest against this obligation,” said Moroccan sociologist Ali Shabani. [1]

A typical day of fasting

Muslims have to change their whole physical and emotional selves during these 30 long days of fasting. A typical day of fasting begins with getting up early, around 4:30a.m. and sharing a meal called Sahur together before the fast begins at dawn, about 5:10a.m. As dawn breaks, the first of five daily prayers, Fajr, is offered.

As the day proceeds, fasting Muslims are constantly bombarded with messages from their stomachs that it is time for breakfast, snack, lunch, and so on. And each time, Muslims remind themselves that they are fasting for the sole purpose of pleasing Allah and seeking his mercy. They offer the second and third prayers during early and late afternoon, respectively.

Fasting during Ramadan is meant to help Muslims to experience how a hungry person feels and what it is like to have an empty stomach. It is supposed to teach them to share the sufferings of the less fortunate. Muslims believe that fasting leads one to appreciate the bounties of Allah, which are usually taken for granted – until they are missed!

Throughout the day Muslims are encouraged to go out of their way to help the needy, both financially and emotionally. Some believe that a reward earned during this month is multiplied 70 times and more. For this reason, Ramadan is also known as the month of charity and generosity.

To a Muslim, fasting not only means abstaining from food, but also refraining from all vice and evils committed consciously or unconsciously. It is believed that if one volunteers to refrain from lawful foods and sex, they will be in a better position to avoid unlawful things and acts during the rest of the year.

Breaking the daily fast During Ramadan

The fast is broken at sunset. Muhammad recommended breaking the fast with dates. Muslims are urged to invite others to break the fast with them. These gatherings are called Iftar parties.

Just after breaking the fast, and before dinner, Muslims offer the fourth of the five daily prayers, which is called the Maghrib prayer. After dinner, Muslims go to the Mosques to offer the Isha prayer, which is the last of the five daily prayers. The day ends with a special voluntary prayer, the Taraweeh, offered by the congregation reciting the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam.

The last 10 days of Ramadan

The last ten days of Ramadan are considered highly blessed, especially the 27th night which is also called Laylatu al Qadr (the ‘Night of Power’, or the ‘Night of Destiny’). In Arabic, Laylatul Qadr is described in the Qur’an as, “better than a thousand months” (Surah 97:3). It is believed that on this night Muhammad received the first revelation of the Qur’an. It is the night when the prophethood of Muhammad began. This night is therefore in celebration of the arrival of the Qur’an. For many Muslims, this period is marked by a heightened spiritual intensity and they may spend these nights praying and reciting the Qur’an. According to Abu Huraira’s translation of

the Hadith, Muhammad declared that “whoever prays during the Night of Power with faith and hoping for its reward will have all his previous sins forgiven.” Some Muslims will take the day off work so they can stay up all night and will often spend this night in the mosque.

The whole Night of Power, from sunset to dawn, is the holiest night of the year. It is believed that there are groups of special angels who are only seen on the Night of Power. These angels perform special purposes. Some come down for worship, others for granting the request of the believing Muslim. Other angels come down bringing with them proclamations of the coming year.

The festival for the end of Ramadan

After 29 or 30 days of fasting, the end of the month of Ramadan is observed with a day of celebration, called Eid-ul-Fitr (The festival for the first day after Ramadan). On this day, Muslims gather in one place to offer a prayer of thanks. It is traditional to wear new clothes, visit friends and relatives, exchange gifts, eat delicious dishes prepared for this occasion, and wait patiently for the next year.

[1] Magharebia Newspaper, Casablanca, 21/09/08

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