Understanding the real meaning of Ramadan

MUSLIMS from every corner of the globe are opening their hearts and homes to our most beloved guest: Ramadan.

By Sumayyah Meehan

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Published: Fri 14 Sep 2007, 9:43 AM

Last updated: Wed 12 Apr 2023, 12:41 PM

The holy month of fasting is under way with last minute shoppers racing to buy even more delectables to adorn their Ramadan table!

The holy month of Ramadan falls on the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, which is based on the movements of the moon. Ramadan commences the moment the new moon is sighted. Every year Ramadan comes on a different date due to lunar movements and traverses continuously through all the seasons. So, this year it may fall during the winter in one country and in the summer of another!

Fasting, or sawm, is the 4th pillar of Islam and Ramadan is a month-long fast where Muslims abstain from food, drink, cigarettes and intimacy from dawn until dusk.

Allah says in the Holy Quran,

"You who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so you can gain more spiritual awareness." (2:183).

The fasting day commences about 30 minutes before the dawn, or Al-Fajr, prayer. Muslims rouse from the comfort of their beds to enjoy a pre-fast breakfast called, ‘Suhoor’ which usually features freshly baked bread, warm sugary tea and dates. One might think it would be difficult to wake up at such an odd hour of the night to eat. But for Muslims, partaking in the ‘Suhoor’ meal is an absolute delight. The clanking of dishes as the meal is hurriedly prepared and the warmth from the hearth that fills the home makes the meal even more enticing!

The ‘Suhoor’ meal is also important in Ramadan because it was narrated that Abu Said Al Khudri said:

"The Prophet (pbuh) said: ‘Suhoor’ is a meal of blessings, so do not leave it, even if one of you just takes a gulp of water, for Allah sends mercy, and His angels seek forgiveness for those who take Suhoor." (Ahmad and Ibn Abi Shaybah).

The actual fast, however, begins when the call to prayer is heard for the Al-Fajr prayer. Once the fast has begun Muslims race to the mosque to perform the prayer and they often head home to recite from the Holy Quran until the sun actually rises.

No special treatment

Just because a Muslim is fasting does not mean they can take it easy. Muslims are expected to work just as hard as they would when they are not fasting. Of course, all the bellies of the fasting Muslims will gurgle and grumble throughout the day. But the beauty of fasting is that we deny ourselves the basic of needs out of love and obedience to Allah. The fast humbles us as nothing else can do. First, it opens our eyes to the suffering of the less fortunate that struggle day in and day out for just a scrap of food. Second, it removes the clouds from our eyes and makes us thankful to Allah for all the bounties He has bestowed upon us no matter how great or small we deem them to be.

The benefits of fasting

Think about it. The stomach is one of the hardest working organs in our body. It processes all the junk we stuff into it, like fast food and grease, without even a hiccup. The stomach is constantly in motion and working over time to deliver vital minerals and nutrients to the rest of our body. By fasting, our stomach has a chance to slow down and get a break from the rigors of constant digestion. As a result, hormones in the body are stabilised which helps regulate our behaviours and helps us control them.

Another added benefit of fasting is that it helps us to rein in our own desires. Hunger is the strongest urge that humans face in their daily lives with physical pangs that we can feel. By denying the urge to eat for a set period of time, you will find that you can also summon the power to curb other addictive habits like drug or alcohol addiction.

Who is required to fast?

All Muslims being of sound mind must fast. However, there are exceptions. Children under the age of puberty do not have to fast. The elderly, terminally ill or pregnant/nursing women do not have to fast either. But, all the fasts that are missed (excluding children) must be made up at a later date if the person is of the strength and mind to do so.

Breaking the fast

The Muslim fast can be broken when the sun goes down. Typically, Muslims break the fast with an odd-number of dates and a glass of water as Muhammad (pbuh) usually did. The post-fast meal is called ‘Iftar’ and it is a veritable feast, which features an abundance of savouries, entrees and desserts. Often Muslims will invite guests to their homes to share the meal with them. There is a special reward from Allah for whomever feeds a fasting person. Partaking of this meal is a joyous occasion that can literally bring tears to the Muslim’s eyes because they are so thankful to Allah for the sustenance.

Ramadan nights

The nights of Ramadan are special. It presents a golden opportunity for Muslims to repent and worship Allah to hopefully reap the rewards. There is also a special prayer offered by Muslims after the evening, or Isha, prayer. It is called, ‘Taraweeh’ prayer. It is offered every night during Ramadan. And by the end of the month of fasting the entire Holy Quran will have been recited in Taraweeh.

Ramadan’s crown jewel

There is a ‘jewel’ hidden in the last 10 nights of Ramadan. It is more precious than the finest diamond that could ever be found on Earth. It is called ‘The Night of Power’, or Laylat Al-Qadr, and it is equal to 1,000 months of forgiveness. It is also important because it was the night in which the Holy Quran was revealed.

"We have indeed revealed it, (Al-Quran) in the Night of Power." (97:1)

Muslims do not know the exact date but according to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) it is found somewhere in the last 10 odd-numbered nights. Muslims often increase their acts of worship during these nights. Some perform ‘Itikaf’ which means that they live in the Mosque during these last days in utter devotion to Allah.

The final act

Before Ramadan ends, all Muslims with means must pay alms, or Zakat, to the poor and less fortunate at a rate of 2.5 per cent of their total income for the year. Whoever has the means and does not pay Zakat will have their fast ‘hung up’. This means that Allah will not accept the entire Ramadan fast unless the alms are paid. Items that are ‘Zakatable’ include gold, silver and cash. Although precious stones are not applicable. However, your fancy car or spiffy SUV most certainly are!

Ramadan is here and it will be gone before you know it. Use every minute of the fasting season to worship Allah as only He deserves to be worshipped and to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil.

And to my non-Muslim readers, I encourage you to try to fast at least one day during Ramadan to get a hands-on feel for what your Muslim friends and colleagues are going through. Just make sure you secure an invite to a tasty Iftar meal as well!

Sumayyah Meehan is a Kuwait-based American writer who embraced Islam. She can be reached at abidhjs@msn.com

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