As we approach the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, let’s take a moment to delve deeper into what it’s all about. We are all aware of the intense fasting it entails, but there is so much more to this important month.
Ramadan, or as it is sometimes referred to, Ramzan, is a practice deeply embedded in the Islamic belief and faith for well over a thousand years now. It is believed that in 610 AD, Prophet Muhammad wandered the desert near Mecca and Angel Gabriel appeared to him, informing him that he had been chosen to receive the word of Allah. Following which the Prophet Muhammad began preaching and transcribing the words to the sacred book of Islam, the Quran. Therefore, Ramadan is the recognition of the month during which the Quran was sent down.
The annual dates of Ramadan are determined by the sighting of the first crescent moon, or the 9th month in the Islamic calendar. All Muslims fast for the entirety of this month, starting from sunrise to sunset every day. ‘Ramadan’ was derived from the Arabic word ‘Ar-Ramad’, which means parched thirst, hence capturing the essence of the holy month in a single word.
The faithful eat ‘Suhoor’ in preparation of the fast, which is basically a pre-dawn meal of energy-loaded foods to help them get through the day. The fast is broken every night traditionally, like the Prophet Muhammad did about fourteen centuries ago, at sunset, with a sip of water and dates. This is followed by a sunset prayer, which is further followed by a feast shared with the family known as ‘Iftar’. In the Arabic countries, a staple Ramadan Iftar is juice made of apricots, whereas in the South Asian countries and Turkey, yogurt based drinks are popular. Across the Muslim world, tents and tables are set up by mosques and aid organizations for the public to consumer free Iftar meals every night of Ramadan.
In the concluding days of Ramadan some devout practitioners go into reclusion, spending all their time in the mosque. The worship by the faithful becomes more intense as they seek answers to their prayers during ‘Laylat ak-Qadr’. It means ‘The Night of Destiny’, or the night on which they believe God sent Angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad and recited the first verse of Quran. Ramadan ends with the celebration of ‘Eid al-Fitr’. On the early morning of Eid, the faithful attend prayers, and the rest of the day is passed spending time with the family.
The faithful welcome the month with greetings like ‘Ramadan Mubarak’. A distinctive feature of Ramadan among the Sunni Muslims is prayer during nights at the mosque, ‘Taraweeh’. In the Arabian Gulf world, affluent Sheikhs conduct ‘Majlises’, wherein the people are welcome to pass by them all hours of the night for food, beverages, and conversations. A significant annual tradition in Turkey is to eat the traditional soft bread ‘Ramadan Pide’, which is an important element of the Iftar. Raamadan in Egypt is an illuminated month, because lanterns, which they call ‘fanoos’ is a common sighting. Another customary aspect in some of the other countries is drumming in the middle of the night in order to wake people up for their pre-dawn meal, which is generally around 2.30 am- 3 am.
This year, Ramadan falls on 26th May 2017 and ends on the evening of 24th June 2017. Similar to other holidays for which family and friends get together, Ramadan increases the bond amongst families. It may seem like an arduous time to pass, but for the faithful, it is a fulfilling experience, both, emotionally and spiritually.
But why do Muslims fast? Doing so is one of the pillars of Islam, along with the Muslim declaration of faith, charity, daily prayer, and performing the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. The fast serves as a medium for an individual to introspect, and exercise self-restraint. Moreover, it is a way to detoxify oneself physically and spiritually, by distancing from impulses like coffee, snacking, sex, rage, gossiping, and smoking. It is also believed to bring the divine closer to the faithful, and is said to be a reminder of the suffering of the less privileged or fortunate, which is why Muslims often donate charities during the month and feed the hungry. This month is the time of the year when the faithful detaches himself/herself from worldly pleasures and focuses on his/her prayers. Of course, needless to mention, anybody outside the faith can participate in this holy practice.