What Is Ramadan?
Ramadan (رمضان Ramaḍān, Ramazan, Ramzan, Ramadhan, or Ramathan) is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting (sawm) to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief. This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The month lasts 29–30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon, according to numerous biographical accounts compiled in the hadiths.
The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramiḍa or ar-ramaḍ, which means scorching heat or dryness. Fasting is fard (obligatory) for adult Muslims, except those who are suffering from an illness, travelling, are elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic, chronically ill or menstruating. Fasting the month of Ramadan was made obligatory (fard) during the month of Sha’ban, in the second year after the Muslims migrated from Mecca to Medina. Fatwas have been issued declaring that Muslims who live in regions with a natural phenomenon such as the midnight sun or polar night should follow the timetable of Mecca, but the more commonly accepted opinion is that Muslims in those areas should follow the timetable of the closest country to them in which night can be distinguished from day.
While fasting from dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking, and engaging in sexual relations. Muslims are also instructed to refrain from sinful behavior that may negate the reward of fasting, such as false speech (insulting, backbiting, cursing, lying, etc.) and fighting except in self-defense. Pre-fast meals before dawn are referred to as Suhoor, while the post-fast breaking feasts after sunset are called Iftar. Spiritual rewards (thawab) for fasting are also believed to be multiplied within the month of Ramadan. Fasting for Muslims during Ramadan typically includes the increased offering of salat (prayers), recitation of the Quran and an increase of doing good deeds and charity.
Chapter 2, Verse 185, of the Quran states:
The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.[Quran2:185]
It is believed that the Quran was first revealed to Muhammad during the month of Ramadan which has been referred to as the “best of times”. The first revelation was sent down on Laylat al-Qadr (The night of Power) which is one of the five odd nights of the last ten days of Ramadan. According to hadith, all holy scriptures were sent down during Ramadan. It is further believed that the tablets of Ibrahim, the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel and the Quran were sent down on 1st, 6th, 12th, 13th and 24th Ramadan, respectively.
According to the Quran, fasting was also obligatory for prior nations, and is a way to attain taqwa, fear of God.[Quran2:183] God proclaimed to Muhammad that fasting for His sake was not a new innovation in monotheism, but rather an obligation practiced by those truly devoted to the oneness of God. The pagans of Mecca also fasted, but only on tenth day of Muharram to expiate sins and avoid droughts.
The ruling to observe fasting during Ramadan was sent down 18 months after Hijra, during the month of Sha’ban in the second year of Hijra in 624 CE.
According to historian Philip Jenkins, Ramadan comes “from the strict Lenten discipline of the Syrian Churches”, a postulation corroborated by other scholars, such as the theologian Paul-Gordon Chandler. This suggestion is based on the idea that the Quran itself has Syriac Christian origins, a claim to which some Muslim academics such as M. Al-Azami, object. With professional athletes sharing their experiences of fasting during this religious period, Ramadan is more in the public eye than ever before – and while tradition, culture and religion remain at the forefront, more and more Muslims are finding ways to fit their lifestyle around their faith.
The beginning and end of Ramadan are determined by the lunar Islamic calendar.
Hilāl (the crescent) is typically a day (or more) after the astronomical new moon. Since the new moon marks the beginning of the new month, Muslims can usually safely estimate the beginning of Ramadan. However, to many Muslims, this is not in accordance with authenticated Hadiths stating that visual confirmation per region is recommended. The consistent variations of a day have existed since the time of Muhammad.
Night of Power
Main article: Laylat al-Qadr
The Arabic Laylat al-Qadr, translated to English is “the night of power” or “the night of decree”, is considered the holiest night of the year. This is the night in which Muslims believe the first revelation of the Quran was sent down to Muhammad stating that this night was “better than one thousand months [of proper worship]”, as stated in Chapter 97:3 of the Quran.
Also, generally, Laylat al-Qadr is believed to have occurred on an odd-numbered night during the last ten days of Ramadan, i.e., the night of the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th. The Dawoodi Bohra Community believe that the 23rd night is Laylat al-Qadr.
The holiday of Eid al-Fitr (عيد الفطر) marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next lunar month, Shawwal. This first day of the following month is declared after another crescent new moon has been sighted or the completion of 30 days of fasting if no visual sighting is possible due to weather conditions. This first day of Shawwal is called Eid al-Fitr. Eid al-Fitr may also be a reference towards the festive nature of having endured the month of fasting successfully and returning to the more natural disposition (fitra) of being able to eat, drink and resume intimacy with spouses during the day.
The common practice during Ramadan is fasting from dawn to sunset. The pre-dawn meal before the fast is called the suhur, while the meal at sunset that breaks the fast is the iftar.
Muslims also engage in increased prayer and charity during Ramadan. Ramadan is also a month where Muslims try to practice increased self-discipline. This is motivated by the Hadith, especially in Al-Bukhari that “When Ramadan arrives, the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of hell are locked up and devils are put in chains.”
Main article: 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 behaviour. 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 and sane, and have no disabilities or illnesses. Many children endeavour to complete as many fasts as possible as practice for later life.
Exemptions to fasting are travel, menstruation, severe illness, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. However, many Muslims with medical conditions insist on fasting to satisfy their spiritual needs, although it is not recommended by the hadith. Professionals should closely monitor such individuals who decide to persist with fasting. Those who were unable to fast still must make up the days missed later. Muslims do not have to complete this if they are unable to, in the Quran it says that if somebody has difficulty participation in fasting then they do not have to. An example of a time when you are unable to is: being homeless or poor, being malnourished, pregnant, being a new born baby or having any illness preventing this from happening.
Main article: Suhoor
Each day, before dawn, Muslims observe a pre-fast meal called the suhoor. After stopping a short time before dawn, Muslims begin the first prayer of the day, Fajr.
Main article: Iftar
At sunset, families hasten for the fast-breaking meal known as iftar. Dates are usually the first food 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 in a buffet style, are frequent at iftar. Traditional dishes are often highlighted, including traditional desserts, and particularly those made only during Ramadan. Water is usually the beverage of choice, but juice and milk are also often available, as are soft drinks and caffeinated beverages.
In the Middle East, the iftar meal consists of water, juices, dates, salads and appetizers, one or more main dishes, and various kinds of desserts. Usually, the dessert is the most important part during iftar. Typical main dishes 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 luqaimat, 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 is very important in Islam, and even more so during Ramadan. Zakāt, often translated as “the poor-rate”, is obligatory as one of the pillars of Islam; a fixed percentage of the person’s savings is required to be given to the poor. Sadaqah is voluntary charity in giving above and beyond what is required from the obligation of zakāt. In Islam, all good deeds are more handsomely rewarded during 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 zakāt that they are obligated to give. In addition, many will also use this time to give a larger portion of sadaqah in order to maximize the reward that will await them at the Last Judgment.
Main article: Tarawih
Tarawih (تراويح) refers to extra prayers performed by Muslims at night in the Islamic month of Ramadan. Contrary to popular belief, they are not compulsory. However, many Muslims pray these prayers in the evening during Ramadan. Some scholars maintain that Tarawih is neither fard or a Sunnah, but is the preponed Tahajjud (night prayer) prayer shifted to post-Isha’ for the ease of believers. But a majority of Sunni scholars regard the Tarawih prayers as Sunnat al-Mu’akkadah, a salaat that was performed by the Islamic prophet Muhammad very consistently.
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 Tarawih prayers, it is common.
In some Muslim countries today, lights are strung up in public squares, and across city streets, to add to the festivities of the month. Lanterns have become symbolic decorations welcoming the month of Ramadan. In a growing number of countries, they are hung on city streets. The tradition of lanterns as a decoration becoming associated with Ramadan is believed to have originated during the Fatimid Caliphate primarily centered in Egypt, where Caliph al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah was greeted by people holding lanterns to celebrate his ruling. From that time, lanterns were used to light mosques and houses throughout the capital city of Cairo. Shopping malls, places of business, and people’s homes can be seen with stars and crescents and various lighting effects, as well.
As the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia has diverse Ramadan traditions. On the island of Java, many Javanese Indonesians bathe in holy springs to prepare for fasting, a ritual known as Padusan. The city of Semarang marks the beginning of Ramadan with the Dugderan carnival, which involves parading the Warak ngendog, a horse-dragon hybrid creature allegedly inspired by the Buraq. In the Chinese-influenced capital city of Jakarta, fire crackers were traditionally used to wake people up for morning prayer, until the 19th century. Towards the end of Ramadan, most employees receive a one-month bonus known as Tunjangan Hari Raya. Certain kinds of food are especially popular during Ramadan, such as beef in Aceh, and snails in Central Java. The iftar meal is announced every evening by striking the bedug, a giant drum, in the mosque.
Common greetings during Ramadan are “Ramadan Mubarak” or “Ramadan Kareem”, which wish the recipient a blessed or generous Ramadan.
According to a 2012 Pew Research Centre study of 39 countries and territories, there is widespread Ramadan observance, with a median of 93%. Regions with high percentages of fasting among Muslims include Southeast Asia, South Asia, MENA and most of Sub-Saharan Africa. Percentages are lower in Central Asia and Southeast Europe.
In some Muslim countries, failing to fast during Ramadan is considered a crime and is prosecuted as such. For instance, in Algeria, in October 2008 the court of Biskra condemned six people to four years in prison and heavy fines.
In Kuwait, according to law number 44 of 1968, the penalty is a fine of no more than 100 Kuwaiti dinars, (about US$330, GB£260 in May 2017) or jail for no more than one month, or both penalties, for those seen eating, drinking or smoking during Ramadan daytime. In some places in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), eating or drinking in public during the daytime of Ramadan is considered a minor offence and would be punished by up to 150 hours of community service. In neighbouring Saudi Arabia, described by The Economist as taking Ramadan “more seriously than anywhere else”, there are harsher punishments, including flogging, imprisonment and, for foreigners, deportation.
In Malaysia, Muslims who break the fast during daytime are simply arrested by the religious police. People who sell food, drinks, or tobacco to Muslims for immediate consumption can be fined for up to RM1,000 and imprisoned for up to six months, and repeated offenders will have their penalty doubled.
Some countries have laws that amend work schedules during Ramadan. Under UAE labor law, the maximum working hours are to be six hours per day and 36 hours per week. Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait have similar laws.
In Egypt, alcohol sales are banned during Ramadan.
Ramadan fasting is safe for healthy people, but those with medical conditions should seek medical advice if they were to encounter health problems before or during fasting. The fasting period is usually associated with modest weight loss, but weight can return afterwards.
The education departments of Berlin and the United Kingdom have tried to discourage students from fasting during Ramadan, as they claim that not eating or drinking can lead to concentration problems and bad grades, according to their own research.
A review of the literature by an Iranian group suggested fasting during Ramadan might produce renal injury in patients with moderate (GFR <60 ml/min) or worse kidney disease, but was not injurious to renal transplant patients with good function or most stone-forming patients.
The correlation of Ramadan with crime rates is mixed: some statistics show that crime rates drop during Ramadan, while others show that it rises. Decreases in crime rates have been reported by the police in some cities in Turkey (Istanbul and Konya) and the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia. A 2005 study found that there was a decrease in assault, robbery and alcohol-related crimes during Ramadan in Saudi Arabia, but only the decrease in alcohol-related crimes was statistically significant Increases in crime rates during Ramadan have been reported in Turkey, Jakarta,parts of Algeria, Yemen and Egypt.
Various mechanisms have been proposed for the effect of Ramadan on crime:
- An Iranian cleric argues that fasting during Ramadan makes people less likely to commit crimes due to spiritual reasons. Gamal al-Banna argues that fasting can stress people out, which can make them more likely to commit crimes. He criticized Muslims who commit crimes while fasting during Ramadan as “fake and superficial”.
- Police in Saudi Arabia attributed a drop in crime rates to the “spiritual mood prevalent in the country”.
- In Jakarta, Indonesia, police say that the traffic due to 7 million people leaving the city to celebrate Eid al-Fitr results in an increase in street crime. As a result, police deploy an additional 7,500 personnel.
- During Ramadan, millions of pilgrims enter Saudi Arabia to visit Mecca. According to the Yemen Times, such pilgrims are usually charitable, and consequently smugglers traffic children in from Yemen to beg on the streets of Saudi Arabia.
Ramadan in polar regions
The length of the dawn to sunset time varies in different parts of the world according to summer or winter solstices of the sun. Most Muslims fast for 11–16 hours during Ramadan. However, in polar regions, the period between dawn and sunset may exceed 22 hours in summers. For example, in 2014, Muslims in Reykjavik, Iceland, and Trondheim, Norway, fasted almost 22 hours, while Muslims in Sydney, Australia, fasted for only about 11 hours. Muslims in areas where continuous night or day is observed during Ramadan follow the fasting hours in the nearest city where fasting is observed at dawn and sunset. Alternatively, Muslims may follow Mecca time.
Employment during Ramadan
Muslims will continue to work during Ramadan. The prophet Muhammad said that it is important to keep a balance between worship and work. In some Muslim countries, such as Oman, however, working hours are shortened during Ramadan. It is often recommended that working Muslims inform their employers if they are fasting, given the potential for the observance to impact performance at work. The extent to which Ramadan observers are protected by religious accommodation varies by country. Policies putting them at a disadvantage compared to other employees have been met with discrimination claims in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia