Ramadan and Fasting ( Information for Non-muslims )
Ramadan 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. 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. Ramadan 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 to thankfulness and 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.
The month of Ramadan Briefy explained
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim Lunar calendar. The Month of Ramadan is also when it is believed the Holy Quran “was sent down from heaven, a guidance unto men, a declaration of direction, and a means of Salvation”.It is during this month that Muslims fast. It is called the Fast of Ramadan and lasts the entire month. Ramadan is a time when Muslims concentrate on their faith and spend less time on the concerns of their everyday lives. It is a time of worship and contemplation .
During the Fast of Ramadan strict restraints are placed on the daily lives of Muslims. They are not allowed to eat or drink during the daylight hours. Smoking and sexual relations are also forbidden during fasting. At the end of the day the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the iftar. The fast is resumed the next morning.
The good that is acquired through the fast can be destroyed by – the telling of a lie,slander,denouncing someone behind his back, a false oath,greed or covetousness.These are considered offensive at all times, but are most offensive during the Fast of Ramadan. Thus one of the objectives of this month for a Muslim is to purify himself / herself from ill characteristics that are within one. A spiritual cleansing through a physical action.
During Ramadan, it is common for Muslims to go to the Masjid (Mosque) and spend several hours praying and studying the Quran. In addition to the five daily prayers, during Ramadan Muslims recite a special prayer called the Taraweeh prayer (Night Prayer). The length of this prayer is usually 2-3 times as long as the daily prayers. Some Muslims spend the entire night in prayer.
In the last ten nights of this month, Muslims search for a special night called Laylat-al-Qadr (the Night of Power). It is believed that on this night Muhammad first received the revelation of the Holy Quran. And according to the Quran, this is when God determines the course of the world for the following year. When the fast ends (the first day of the month of Shawwal) it is celebrated as a “holiday” called Id-al-Fitr (the Feast of Fast Breaking). Friends and family gather to pray in congregation. Meals are prepared and family and friends have a joyous day.
The Importance of Ramadan to Muslims
Ramadan is important for Muslims is because it is believed to be the month in which the first verses of the Holy Qur’an (the divine scripture) were revealed by Allah (God) to Prophet Muhammad (570-632 C.E.). From time to time, Muhammad used to go out from Makkah, where he was born and where he worked as a caravan trader, to reflect and meditate in solitude. Like Abraham before him, he had never accepted his people’s worship of many gods, and felt a need to withdraw to a quiet place to reflect on the One God. One night, while contemplating in a cave near Makkah, he heard a voice call out, telling him to “Read!” Muhammad protested that he was unable to read. The voice insisted again, and then a third time, and Muhammad found himself reciting the first verses of the Qur’an:
“Read, in the name of thy Lord, Who created—Created man, out of a clot (embryo).Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful,He Who taught the use of the pen—Taught man that which he knew not.Nay, but man doth transgress all bounds,In that he looketh upon himself as self-sufficient.Verily, to thy Lord is the return (of all).” (ch.96: 1-8)
The voice was that of the angel Gabriel, and he confirmed that Muhammad was selected for an important and challenging mission—he was to call people to monotheism and righteousness.
Muslims consider the Qur’an to be God’s speech recorded in the Arabic language, and transmitted to humanity through Muhammad, who is considered the last of the prophets. This tradition of God-chosen prophets or messengers is believed to include such figures as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. Muslims believe that over a period of twenty-three years, various verses and chapters of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad through Gabriel. The Qur’an is comprised of 114 chapters of varying length, with titles such as “Abraham,” “The Pilgrimage,” “Mary,” and “Repentance.”
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset every day. This means not consuming food and drink, including water, during the daylight hours. For married adults, it also includes refraining from marital relations during the hours of fasting (i.e. the daylight hours). In the Arabic language, fasting is known as sawm. Muslims arise early in the morning during Ramadan to have a pre-dawn breakfast meal, known as suhoor. At the end of the day, the fast is completed by taking the iftar meal, which usually includes dates, fresh fruits, appetizers, beverages and dinner. Later in the evening, Muslims attend special nightly prayers(called tarawih) at their local mosque. Each night during Ramadan, approximately 1/30th of the Qur’an is recited in the tarawih prayers, so that the entire scripture is recited in the course of the 29 or 30 days of the month.
Why Muslims Fast
For Muslims, fasting has a number of benefits:
1. It helps one to feel compassion for those who are less fortunate and underprivileged, since each day Muslims feel greater appreciation for what they have as a result of feeling hunger and thirst.
2. It allows one to build a sense of self-control and will-power, which can be beneficial throughout life in dealing with temptations and peer-pressure. Through fasting, Muslims learn to control their natural urges such as hunger and thirst, and thus are able to better resist temptations for things which are not necessary, such as drugs or other unhealthy or harmful substances and behaviors.
3. It offers a time for Muslims to “purify” their bodies as well as their souls, by developing a greater sense of humility, spirituality and community. Ramadan is a very spiritual time for Muslims, and often they invite each other to one another’s homes to break the fast and pray together. A greater sense of generosity and forgiveness is also characteristic of this time.
As with other duties in Islam, fasting becomes obligatory (i.e. one becomes accountable) after the age of puberty.
After the end of Ramadan, a very festive and joyous holiday is celebrated by Muslims, known as Eid al-Fitr [eed ul fit-ur], the Festival of Breaking the Fast. On the day of the Eid, Muslims attend special congregational prayers in the morning, wearing their nicest clothes and perfumes. After the completion of prayers and a special sermon, Muslims rise to greet and hug one another, saying “Eid Mubarak,” which means “Holiday Blessings.” Later on, Muslim families visit each other’s homes, and have special meals together. Children are often rewarded with gifts, money, and sweets.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON RAMADAN AND FASTING
“O Believers! Fast is prescribed for you as it was for those before you so that you may ward off evil. (Fast) a certain number of days.” (Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verses 182-183)
Every year in the ninth lunar month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims around the world abstain from food, drink, vain talk and certain other actions from before sunrise until after sunset.
Q: What is Ramadan?
A: Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. In this month Muslims all over the world fast from dawn to dusk.
Q: When does Ramadan begin?
A: Muslims follow the Islamic lunar calendar which is about eleven days shorter than the Georgian calendar. The beginning of the Islamic lunar months depends on the actual sighting of the new moon. Thus Ramadan begins on a different day each year.
Q: Is it not an inconvenience to begin the fasting period at different times during a year?
A: No, on the contrary the lunar calendar gives us a chance of fasting during different seasons of the year. Throughout a Muslim’s lifetime, Ramadan will fall both during winter and fall months, when the days are short, and spring and summer months, when the days are long and the fast is little more difficult. In this way, the difficulty of the fast is evenly distributed between Muslims living in the northern and southern hemispheres.
Q: What is meant by fasting during Ramadan?
A: In Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and other sensual pleasures from dawn to dusk. The fast is performed to obey God’s command with an aim to inculcate discipline, humbleness and self-restraint, to experience what the poor and destitute feel, and to develop the noble habit of generosity.
Q: How did the fast during Ramadan become obligatory for Muslims?
A: The revelations from God to Prophet Muhammad that would eventually be compiled as the Qur’an began in the year 610 CE. The fast of Ramadan did not become a religious obligation for Muslims until the year 624 CE. The obligation to fast is explained in the second chapter of the Qur’an: “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may become careful about your duties toward God … Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting…” (The Qur’an, Chapter 2, verses 183 and 185)
Q: Do Muslims gain anything from fasting?
A: The main benefits of Ramadan are an increased humbleness and compassion for those in need of the necessities of life, a sense of self-purification and reflection, and a renewed focus on spirituality. Muslims also appreciate the feeling of togetherness shared by family and friends throughout the month. Perhaps the greatest practical benefit is the yearly lesson in self-restraint and discipline that is carried forward to other aspects of a Muslim’s life.
Q: Isn’t it difficult to perform the fast ?
A: In many ways, fasting becomes easy as the inculcation of fasting is ingrained from a young age. Infact , it is awaited by young and old with renewed enthusiasm every year. In Muslim countries, most people are observing the fast, so there are fewer temptations such as luncheon meetings, daytime celebrations and offers of food from friends.
Q: Do all Muslims fast in Ramadan?
A: Fasting is compulsory for all Muslims who are mentally and physically fit, past the age of puberty, in a settled situation (not traveling), and are sure that fasting is unlikely to cause real physical or mental injury.
Q: Who are exempted from fasting?
A: The following are exempted from fasting during Ramadan: Children under the age of puberty, the sick, seniors for whom fast causes unbearable hardships, pregnant women for whom fasting is harmful for self or for the fetus, nursing mothers who fear that fasting causes difficulties for the self or the child she nurses, the menstruating women, the travelers on journeys and those who are mentally incapacitated or not responsible for their actions.
Q: What about children, can they fast voluntarily?
A: Muslim children under the age of puberty can fast with the permission and supervision of their parents. The parents will help them develop the practice of fasting gradually so that when the children reach the age of puberty they are mentally and physically prepared to fast in Ramadan. If a child cannot or does not feel like continuing the fast, he/she will be allowed to break the fast before dusk without blame or penalty.
Q: How can non-Muslim co-workers and friends help someone who is fasting?
A: Employers, co-workers and teachers can help by understanding the significance of Ramadan and by showing a willingness to make minor allowances for its physical demands. Special consideration can be given to such things as requests for vacation time, the need for flexible early morning or evening work schedules and lighter homework assignments. It is also very important that Muslim workers and students be given time to attend Eid prayers at the end of Ramadan. Eid is as important to Muslims as Christmas and Yom Kippur are to Christians and Jews.
Q: What are the traditional practices for the month of Ramadan?
A: Many practices can be seen in various cultures and ethnical groups. However, the following practices are universal among all Muslims.
1.Suhoor, i.e. Waking up before dawn to eat something before the commencement of the fast.
2.Iftaar, i.e. Breaking the daily fast with a drink of water and dates at dusk.
3.Tilaawah, i.e. Qur’an Recitation. Most Muslims recite 1/30th of the Holy Qur’an every night so as to complete reciting the entire Holy Qur’an during the month.
4.giving of alms and charity are highly recommended during this month.
Q: Are there any special events during Ramadan?
A: The most important event is the celebration of Laylatul Qadr.
Q: What is Laylatul Qadr?
A: Laylatul Qadr, i.e. “the Night of Power & Grandeur” marks the anniversary of the night on which the Prophet Muhammad received the Qur’an from God, through the angel Gabriel. An entire chapter in the Qur’an deals with this night: “We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power: and what will explain to thee what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by God’s permission, on every errand. Peace!…This until the rise of morn.” (Chapter 97) Muslims believe Laylatul Qadr is one of the last odd-numbered nights of Ramadan.
Q: What is Eid ul Fitr?
A: Eid ul Fitr is the Festival of Fast-Breaking. Celebrations at the end of Ramadan begin with special morning prayers on the first day of Shawwal, the month following Ramadan on the Islamic lunar calendar. It is forbidden to fast during Eid because it is a time for relaxation. During Eid Muslims greet each other with the phrase “Eid Mubarak” (eed-moo-bar-ak), meaning “blessed Eid”. Some also say “May God accept your deeds [you performed during Ramadan]”.
Ramadan — the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, during which Muslims fast from dawn to sunset.
Sawm — Arabic word meaning “fasting.”
Suhoor — the pre-dawn breakfast meal eaten before beginning the daily fast.
Iftar — the evening meal, taken after sunset to break the daily fast.
Tarawih — special prayers offered nightly during Ramadan, in which approximately 1/30th of the Qur’an is recited each night.
Eid al-Fitr — Festival at the end of Ramadan, in celebration of completing the month of fasting. This takes place on the 1st day of the next month, Shawal.
Muhammad — a prophet and righteous person believed by Muslims to be the final messenger of God, whose predecessors are believed to include prophets Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus, among others.
Gabriel — Muslims believe that among God’s many creations are angels. Gabriel is believed to be one of the most important angels, as he was responsible for transmitting God’s divine revelations to all of the human prophets, ending with Muhammad.
Allah — the Arabic name for the One God.
“Eid Mubarak” — a greeting used by Muslims during the Eid holidays. It means “Holiday Blessings!”
Makkah (Mecca) — the sacred city of Muslims, in modern-day Saudi Arabia, where the Ka’bah (house of worship built by Abraham) is located.
Masjid — Muslim house of worship. (also known as “mosque.”)
Monotheism — belief in One God.
Polytheism — belief in many gods.
Qur’an (Koran) — the holy book of Muslims containing God’s revelation to Muhammad.
Compiled and edited by Al-Islaah Publications( www.everymuslim.co.za)
1.Council on American-Islamic Relations Washington, D.C.Ramadan Publicity Resource Kit
2.Fast of Ramadan:
3.Information for teachers (Council on Islamic Education)