“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that ye may (learn) self-restraint, (Fasting) for a fixed number of days”
The Quran, Surah Baqarah Chapter 2, verse 183.
What is Ramadân?
It is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Islam uses a lunar calendar—that is, each month begins with the sighting of the new moon. Because the lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar used elsewhere, Islamic holidays “move” each year. In 2004 Ramadan will begin on Oct. 15 when over one billion Muslims throughout the world fast.
It is a time for inner reflection, devotion to God, and self-control.
It is the third “pillar” or religious obligation of Islam (the other four pillars being belief in the Oneness of God and that the Prophet Muhammad (Peacebe upon him) was his last Messenger, Salaah (the 5 daily prayers), Zakaah (giving 2.5% of ones wealth as charity) and the Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah).
It is believed to be the month in which the first verses of the Holy Qur’an (the divine scripture) were revealed by God to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
Why do Muslims fast?
Muslims fast in the month of Ramadan to develop God consciousness, self-control and willpower.
They want to become closer to God through this act of worship (fasting) and also through extra acts of prayer and charity which are encouraged in Ramadan.
It is also compulsory for all Muslims who have reached puberty and who are in good health to fast.
What does a day in Ramadan entail?
Before dawn, Muslims are encouraged to wake up and eat a meal, called Suhoor in Arabic.
Starting from dawn, they begin the fast. Fasting means they do not eat anything, drink anything (including water) or have sex with their spouses from this time until sunset.
During the day, they maintain a normal schedule.
Muslims maintain the usual five daily prayers during their fast.
Sunset: At this time, Muslims break their fast with joy and gratefulness to God. This meal is called the Iftar.
At many mosques during Ramadan, about one thirtieth of the Qur’an is recited each night in prayers known as tarawih. In this way, by the end of the month the complete scripture will have been recited.
The fast is resumed the next morning before dawn.
What are the benefits of fasting?
The most important benefit is that it is a means of attaining closeness to God
Secondary learning self-control.
As a third goal, fasting is a way of experiencing hunger and developing sympathy for the less fortunate and learning 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.
“Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Quran, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgement (between right and wrong) … God intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; And perchance ye shall be grateful”
The Quran, Surah Baqarah, Chapter 2, Ayah (sign) 185.
Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which in 2004 occurs around November 16. Literally the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (the other occurs after the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca). At Eid al-Fitr Muslims are required to perform an additionl prayer to show their thanks to God. This prayer is normally carried out early on Eid morning where local Mosques would close and all congregants are required to attend the Eid Gha (Prayer read out in an open field). After the Eid prayer Muslims will visit the cemetery where they will pray for departed loved ones.
Generally people dress in their finest clothes, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.
A sense of generosity and gratitude colours these festivities. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to Mosques and educational institutions.
Some Frequently Asked Questions about Ramadan
Q: How did the fast during Ramadan become obligatory for Muslims?
A: The revelations from God to the Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon him, that would eventually be compiled as the Quran began during Ramadan in the year 610, but the fast of Ramadan did not become a religious obligation for Muslims until the year 624. The obligation to fast is explained in the second chapter of the Quran:
“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint…Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Quran, 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…” (Surah Baqarah, Chapter 2, ayahs (signs) 183 and 185)
Q: What do Muslims believe they gain from fasting?
A: One of the main benefits of Ramadan is an increased 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 can carry forward to other aspects of a Muslim’s life such as work and education.
Q: Why does Ramadan begin on a different day each year?
A: Because Ramadan is a lunar month, it begins about eleven days earlier each year. Throughout a Muslim’s lifetime, Ramadan will fall both during winter months, when the days are short, and summer months, when the days are long and the fast is 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 Lailat ul-Qadr?
A: Lailat ul-Qadr (“Night of Power”) marks the anniversary of the night on which the Prophet Muhammad first began receiving revelations from God, through the angel Gabriel. An entire chapter in the Quran 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 Lailat ul-Qadr is one of the last odd-numbered nights of Ramadan.
Q: Is it difficult to perform the fast in South Africa?
A: In many ways, fasting in South African society is easier than fasting in areas where the climate is extremely hot. This year at least, the number of daylight hours will be less than when Ramadan occurs during the summer. 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. Many South African Muslims would prefer a daytime work shift during Ramadan so that they may break the fast with their families and attend evening prayers.
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 the Eid Gha (special prayer on the morning of Eid) at the end of Ramadan. Eid is as important to Muslims as Christmas and Yom Kippur are to Christians and Jews. A small token such as a card (there are Eid cards available from Muslim bookstores) or baked goods given to a Muslim co-worker during Eid ul-Fitr would also be greatly appreciated. Hospital workers should be aware that injections and oral medications might break the fast. Patients should be given the opportunity to decide whether or not their condition exempts them from fasting.
Q: Do people normally lose weight during Ramadan?
A: Some people do lose weight, but others may not. It is recommended that meals eaten during Ramadan be light, but most people can’t resist sampling special sweets and foods that have become associated with Ramadan.