Ramadan is a well known practice of the Islam religion observed by Muslims. It has received a lot of recognition from people outside the religion and at some point someone has heard of it. It has stretched from its origin countries of the Middle East to the western world. This has led many people to ask questions about it to better understand what Ramadan is.
To better understand Ramadan it is important to note the history of this religious tradition. Ramadan was established in 610 CE when the Prophet Muhammad had the Quran revealed to him. Muslims named this night Laylat al-Qadr and translated to English it is “the Night of Power.”
So what is it? When is it? And why celebrate it?
Ramadan is known as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. It is meant to be more than just fasting, which is what many people see it as. Ramadan is intended to be an exercise of self-restraint. This self restraint makes Muslims feel as though this is bringing them closer to God and remind them of the less fortunate and suffering. From a historical perspective it commemorates the night the Quran had been revealed to Muhammad.
Ramadan, now, is celebrated during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. This month has been named Ramadan Kareem. It normally lasts 29-30 days depending on the crescent moon. Ramadan follows the Islamic calendar and that’s why it sometimes doesn’t align Gregorian calendar.
During the time of Ramadan it is intended to physically and spiritually purify. Many people spend their downtime during the day in the mosques to recite the Quran. Others may donate money or time to charities during Ramadan. This may include donating money to someone to provide food for them for a month if they cannot normally afford it. Others may feed the hungry.
In other countries, the night after daily fasting there are different traditions. In most countries Muslims participate in nightly prayer at the mosque called “taraweeh.”
Places like Egypt hang Ramadan lanterns caled “fanoos.” These lanterns would be placed at the center of the table during Iftar or hung in the windows and balconies of buildings.
In the Arabian Gulf, wealthy families may open their doors during the evenings and nights to people. People are welcome in the house to have food, tea, and coffee with the owners of the house to socialize and get together to celebrate.
Most of the rules of Ramadan are not overly strict, but many people do practice them making them highly advisable. The first thing to keep in mind there are people who can be exempt from Ramadan. This includes children, elderly, ill, pregnant, nursing, menstruating, and traveling.
For the during the day Ramadan is observed from sunrise to sunset. No food or water is to be consumed then or the fast will be considered invalid. Before the fast there are food and drink to make it through the day. Other things that Muslims try to refrain from are smoking, caffeine, sex, swearing, and losing their temper. This is meant to be a practice of self restraint and this is what some may self restrain from. This can also include gossip and arguments.
Fasting is observed from sunrise to sundown. Before fasting is observed there is a meal that everyone eats to keep their energy up throughout the day and keep them going. This pre-dawn meal is called “suhoor.” In different countries they eat different foods for their pre-dawn meal.
In Egypt people eat mashed up fava beans spiced with cumin and olive oil. They call this “ful.”
Other places like Lebanon and Syria has flatbread with thyme that may be served with either cheese or yogurt.
Afghanistan serves dates and dumplings stuffed with potatoes and leeks. The dumplings are cooked by steaming them then frying and served as the pre-dawn meal.
Breaking the fast for the day is the same in most countries. It is with a sip of water and some dates because that was how Prophet Muhammad broke his fast. After everyone breaks their fast for the there is a large feast called “Iftar.” At iftar family and friends gather in a large social event to eat and drink together.
In the Arab world one of the stables during iftar is apricot juice, whereas in South Asia and Turkey the staple is yogurt based drinks.
Usually mosques and aid organization will set up in public areas for the public to have free iftar meals if they can’t afford it or have anywhere to go.
End of Ramadan
The end of Ramadan is celebrated with a three day celebration called Eid al-Fitr. In the morning families attend early morning Eid prayer and later spend the day together eating and celebrating.
That night it is Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Destiny. During this Muslims participate in worship in hopes that their prayers will be answered. The intention of Laylat al-Qadr is it marks the day Muslims believe God sent Angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad to reveal the first verses of the Quran.
Some common greetings during Ramadan…
“Ramadan Kareem!” translated means “Noble or generous Ramadan!”
“Ramadan Mubarak!” translated means “Blessed Ramadan!”
“Kul ‘am wa enta bi-khair!” translated means “May every year find you in good health!”
“(It was) the month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’aan, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong). So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadan), he must observe Sawm (fasts) that month…”
– al-Baqarah 2:185
“All is with those who restrain themselves.”
– Quran 16:128
“Fasting is a shield with which a servant protects himself from the fire.”
– Ahmad, Saheeh
“Periodic fasting can help clear up the mind and strengthen the body and the spirit.”
– Ezra Taft Benson
“Fasting is, first and foremost, an exercise for identifying and managing adversity in all its forms. With faith, in full conscience, fasting calls women and men to an extra degree of self awareness.”
– Tariq Ramadan
“Through prayer, fasting, and studying, God will answer.”
– Monica Johnson
“A fast is not a hunger strike. Fasting submits to God’s commands. A hunger strike makes God submit to our demands.”
– Edwin Louis Cole