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Explaining Ramadan to non-Muslims

Abid Ishaq
Filed on October 22, 2005

I HAVE been asked by numerous people to introduce the month of Ramadan to non-Muslim readers. The dramatic transformation in Muslim societies during Ramadan is noticed by the non-Muslims around the world. So here’s an attempt to explain the fast and its relationship with the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world.

The Muslims divide their months according to the lunar calendar. Ramadan is the 9th month in the lunar year and it is during this month that healthy Muslim adults observe fasting during the daylight hours. Muslim fasting is a total abstention from eating, drinking, and sexual relations from dawn to dusk for 29 or 30 days of the month of Ramadan. (There can only be 29 or 30 days in a given lunar month). Apart from abstinence, avoiding immoral behaviour and anger and showing compassion are all part of the requirements of the fasting faithful.

The purpose of fasting is manifold. Allah the Almighty mentioned in the Holy Book of the Muslims (the Quran) that the fasting is prescribed for the believers as it was prescribed for the people before them, so that they may acquire self control and God-consciousness. Therefore, the purpose of the fasting is to develop God-consciousness, self-control, and improvement of health by reducing or eliminating impurities from the body, and to become aware of the plight of the poor, hungry, and the sick.

This Ramadan especially assists us in connecting with the dilemma of South Asian Muslims in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan by being a month of spiritual consciousness and high sense of social responsibility. The fulfilment of one’s obligations during the month is rewarded by 70 times.

Fasting is one of the 5 pillars of Islam including expression of faith, Salat (praying 5 times a day), Zakat (the right of the poor on the wealth of the financially able), fasting during the month of Ramadan, and Haj (once a life time pilgrimage to Kaaba).

It is an obligation on every adult and healthy Muslim to fast during the month of Ramadan. The month of Ramadan is also the month in which the Holy Quran was sent down from 7th level of heaven to the 1st level, from where it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, in parts over a period of 23 years. It is a very joyous occasion for the Muslims of the world. Muslims fast during the day and pray and read Quran during the part of the night.

In this noble month, there is a special night called the Night of Power, which is mentioned in the Quran, as a night of mercy and light and worship. It is this night which is better than 1,000 months of worship. During this night, the Quran was sent to the 1st level of heaven. Allah Almighty sent down special angels during this night to pray for the mercy of Allah and salvation for the believers.

Like all Islamic months, Ramadan, the 9th lunar month, begins after sighting the crescent, and not the birth of the new moon. All healthy Muslim adult including homemakers, school-going kids around the age of 13, factory workers, businessmen and others among them will be fasting. Muslims get up very early to take their sahoor, a pre-dawn meal before starting their fast.

At the completion of month of fasting, Muslims all over the world celebrate their holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr. It is a true thanksgiving for a believer for having the opportunity to obey the God by having observed the fast. It is celebrated on the 1st day of 10th lunar month, Shawwal. The holiday begins with Muslims putting on their best preferably new clothes and going to the Eid congregation. Eid congregations are very large gatherings of Muslim men, women and children across the world.


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