This weekend, millions of Muslims across the world are coming together to observe the holy month of Ramadan. Many of us have probably heard of Ramadan, and even wondered why Muslims fast during this month. But what is it, exactly?
Ramadan is the holiest month in the Muslim calender. This year, Ramadan began on Saturday, April 2nd, and will end on Sunday, May 1st. Muslims spend the month observing increased prayer throughout the day, fasting from dawn to sunset, and reciting the Holy Quran, or the holy book of Islam, often.
What is Ramadan?
Many have heard of the practice of fasting during Ramadan. In simple terms, fasting is a practice in which food and drink is abstained from. Muslims commonly wake up early in the morning before sunrise and prepare Suhoor or Sehri, a meal that is intended to provide the energy and nutrients necessary throughout the day.
In the following hours, food and drink, as well as immoral actions and vain conversations, should be avoided. At sunset, the fast is broken. Typically, Muslims break their fast by eating a date and some water, as was the custom of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
Optional prayers, including Tahajjud and Taraweeh, are also observed often. Tahajjud prayers are offered after midnight or in the early morning before dawn. Taraweeh prayers are observed at night, preferably at the mosque in congregation. Muslims spend their days in this manner during the 30 days of Ramadan.
Laylatul-Qadr, or "The Night of Destiny," is a term used to describe a special night during the last ten days of the month of Ramadan.
At the end of Ramadan, Muslims observe a day called Eid-Al-Fitr. During this day, a special Eid Prayer is observed at the mosque and families come together to celebrate and feast. Muslims do not fast on the day of Eid-Al-Fitr.
The days of Ramadan are based on the lunar calendar; Ramadan begins on the sighting of the new moon and also ends with the new moon. The holy month is pushed forward by about 11 ⅓ solar days each year.
What is Fasting in Islam?
Fasting is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, emphasizing that it is a core foundation of the Islamic faith. In the Holy Quran, God has commanded all Muslims, except those who are sick or on a journey, to fast. He says, “O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous” [2:184].
In Islam, fasting is not simply a physical exercise, but also a spiritual one. The ultimate goal of fasting is to become closer to God. It protects Muslims from evil and teaches them to control their passions and live productively.
In one instance, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Fasting is a shield; so the day one of you fasts, he should not indulge in foul talk nor should he shout. And if someone abuses him or fights with him, he should simply say to him, ‘I am fasting, I am fasting.’”
It is prescribed for all Muslims to fast. Those who are sick or traveling are exempt from the practice, and are required to complete it later on. Pregnant women, menstruating women, and breastfeeding women are also exempt, as well as children who have not yet reached puberty.
What are the Origins of Ramadan?
We know that the month of Ramadan is the holiest month for Muslims, but why? During Ramadan, the angel Gabriel was sent by God and revealed the Holy Quran to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Laylatul Qadr is the night on which the Holy Prophet received this revelation. Thus, during this night, God especially showers his mercy upon Muslims.
The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) once said, “Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven’’ (al-Bukhari, Vol.1, Bk.2, No. 34).
What Should I Say To My Muslim Friends?
A simple "Happy Ramadan" is a great way to acknowledge your Muslim friends during Ramadan. "Ramadan Mubarak" and "Ramadan Kareem" can also be said. Spending this joyous time of year spreading kindness and good spirit is the best way to show appreciation during Ramadan.
The True Essence of Ramadan
While Muslims around the world commemorate the month of Ramadan by praying at mosques, reading the Holy Quran, and fasting, the true essence of this month is both timeless and universal. Striving to better oneself of their shortcomings, showing compassion for the needy, and aiding those in need are qualities that we all, regardless of religion or month, should try to implement in our lives in order to better ourselves and the world around us.