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published: 3/17/04
updated: 5/24/13

Ramadan



ramadan

What is Ramadan in Islam?

Ramadan is not a holy day to Muslims but a holy month. It is the ninth month of the Muslim year, in which "the Qur'an was sent down as a guidance for the people" {1}. Ramadan is similar to the Jewish Yom Kippur in that both constitute a period of atonement; Ramadan, however, is seen less as atonement and more as an obedient response to a command from God. {2}

Ramadan observance in Islam

During Ramadan, those who are able must abstain from evil thoughts and deeds, food and drink (including water), and sexual intercourse from dawn until dusk for the entire month. Because the holiday cycles through the solar year, this fast can be much more difficult in some years than others. When Ramadan falls in the summer season, the days of fasting are longer and it is a greater hardship to do without water.

Non-Muslims and Ramadan

Non-Muslims in Muslim countries during Ramadan must be careful not to eat, drink, or smoke in the presence of Muslims during the daytime hours of fasting, as the law requires adherence to the fast in public. The traditional greeting during Ramadan is "Ramadan Mubarak" ("May God give you a blessed month") and the reply is "Ramadan Karim" ("May God give you a generous month"). {3}





The beginning and end of Ramadan are announced when one trustworthy witness testifies before the authorities that the new moon has been sighted; a cloudy sky may, therefore, delay or prolong the fast. The end of the fast is celebrated with one of two Islamic festivals, 'Id al-Fitr. {4}

Practices during Ramadan

Fasting during Ramadan

Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam. The fast (sawm) begins at dawn and ends at sunset. In addition to abstaining from eating and drinking, Muslims also increase restraint, such as abstaining from sexual relations and generally sinful speech and behavior.

The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities. Ramadan also teaches Muslims how to better practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and compulsory charity (zakat).

It becomes compulsory for Muslims to start fasting when they reach puberty, so long as they are healthy, sane and have no disabilities or illnesses. Exemptions to fasting are travel, menstruation, illness, older age, pregnancy, and breast-feeding. However, many Muslims with medical conditions insist on fasting to satisfy their spiritual needs, and healthcare professionals must work with their patients to reach common ground. Professionals should closely monitor individuals who decide to persist with fasting.

While fasting is not considered compulsory in childhood, many children endeavour to complete as many fasts as possible as practice for later life. Those who are unable to fast are obliged to make up for it. According to the Quran, those ill or traveling (musaafir) are exempt from obligation, but still must make up the days missed.

Suhoor and Iftar in Ramadan

Each day before dawn, Muslims observe a pre-fast meal called suhoor. After stopping a short time before dawn, Muslims begin the first prayer of the day, the Fajr prayer. At sunset, families hasten for the fast-breaking meal known as iftar.

Considering the high diversity of the global Muslim population, it is impossible to describe typical suhoor or iftar meals. Suhoor can be leftovers from the previous night's dinner (iftar), typical breakfast foods, or ethnic foods.

In the evening, some dates are usually the first foods to break the fast; according to tradition, Muhammad broke fast with three dates. Following that, Muslims generally adjourn for the Maghrib prayer, the fourth of the five daily prayers, after which the main meal is served.

Social gatherings, many times buffet style, at iftar are frequent, and traditional dishes are often highlighted, including traditional desserts, especially those made only during Ramadan. Water is usually the beverage of choice, but juice and milk are also consumed. Soft drinks and caffeinated beverages are consumed to a lesser extent.

In the Middle East, the iftar meal consists of water, juices, dates, salads and appetizers, one or more entrees, and dessert. Typical entrees are "lamb stewed with wheat berries, lamb kebabs with grilled vegetables, or roast chicken served with chickpea-studded rice pilaf". A rich dessert such as baklava or kunafeh ("a buttery, syrup-sweetened kadaifi noodle pastry filled with cheese") concludes the meal.

Over time, iftar has grown into banquet festivals. This is a time of fellowship with families, friends and surrounding communities, but may also occupy larger spaces at masjid or banquet halls for 100 or more diners.

Charity during Ramadan

Charity is very important in Islam, and even more so during Ramadan. Zakat, often translated as "the poor-rate", is obligatory as one of the pillars of Islam; a fixed percentage is required to be given to the poor of the person's savings. Sadaqa is voluntary charity in given above and beyond what is required from the obligation of Zakat.

In Islam all good deeds are more handsomely rewarded in Ramadan than in any other month of the year. Consequently, many will choose this time to give a larger portion, if not all, of the Zakat for which they are obligated to give. In addition, many will also use this time to give a larger portion of sadaqa in order to maximize the reward that will await them on the Day of Judgment.

In many Muslim countries, it is a common sight to see people giving more food to the poor and the homeless, and even to see large public areas for the poor to come and break their fast. It is said that if a person helps a fasting person to break their fast, then they receive a reward for that fast, without diminishing the reward that the fasting person got for their fast.

Increased prayer and recitation of the Quran

In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Quran. Some Muslims perform the recitation of the entire Quran by means of special prayers, called Tarawih. These voluntary prayers are held in the mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Quran (Juz', which is 1/30 of the Quran) is recited. Therefore, the entire Quran would be completed at the end of the month. Although it is not required to read the whole Quran in the Salatul Tarawih prayers, it is common.



References

  1. Qur'an 2:185.
  2. "Islam." Encyclopędia Britannica (Encyclopędia Britannica Premium Service, 2004).
  3. Lingnet: The Global Language Network.
  4. "Islam." Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 2004).
  5. "Ramadan, Practices" (Wikipedia, used under GDFL)

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