Ramadan (or ‘Ramzan’) the Holiest Month in the Islamic Calendar will begin on or around August 1 this year, requiring Muslims to abstain from eating, drinking and smoking from dawn to dusk.
They will also be required to pray at specified hours and break their fast with a special prayer after sunset. Piety, sacrifice and giving alms to the poor and needy are among the sacred duties of every Muslim during the Holy Month.
Means of Salvation
According to the Muslim faith, it was during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar that the Holy Quran, the sacred book, “was sent down from heaven, guidance unto men, a declaration of direction and a means of Salvation.”
This is also the time of the year when Muslims concentrate more on their faith and spend less time on the concerns of their everyday lives.
In the Arab world, where this writer lived and worked for more than two decades, governments, philanthropists, welfare organisations and community groups offer alms.
The Red Crescent Society (The International Red Cross is so called in these areas) offers rice, wheat, vegetables and fruits and other essentials to the needy.
“Fasting is one way of realising the true state of hunger and the Holy Month is devoted to understanding the sufferings of some sections of the society. Abstinence from pleasures of life (all entertainment and night club activities are suspended during the Month, even after dusk) including sex with spouses helps Muslims to concentrate on the teachings of Islam,” a religious leader said.
At the end of the day, the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the Iftar.
In the evening following the Iftar, it is customary for Muslims to go out visiting family and friends. The fast is resumed the next morning. It is also customary for commercial and industrial undertakings in the Arab world to host special dinners after Iftar for staff and clients, at least once during the Holy Month.
Pregnant women, children, those in poor health and suffering from certain types of ailments including diabetes are exempt from fasting, in addition to Muslims travelling overseas. But many travellers do observe the fasting hours, irrespective of their schedules.
According to the Holy Quran:
One may eat and drink at any time during the night ‘until you can plainly distinguish a white thread from a black thread by the daylight: then keep the fast until night”
The Muslim Faith also states that the good accruing from fasting can be nullified by the following: telling a lie, slander, denouncing someone in his or her absence, a false oath and greed or covetousness. While these are considered offensive at all times, the offense is believed to be multifold during Ramadan.
Muslims also spend several hours praying and studying the Holy Quran. Many Mosques conduct special classes for both Muslims and non-Muslims keen on learning the teachings of the Holy Book. In addition to the five daily prayers, a special prayer is recited during Ramadan. Called, ‘Taraweeh,’ this night prayer is usually longer. Steadfast Muslims spend the entire night in prayer in Mosques.
Laylat Al Qadr or the Night of Power is observed on the evening of the 27th day of Ramadan. Muslims believe that it was on this night that Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) received the revelation of the Holy Quran. According to the Holy Book, this is also the time when God determines the course of the world for the following year.
Ramadan is followed by Shawwal, the first day of which is marked as Eid Al Fitr or the ‘feast marking the end of fasting.’ While Eid is celebrated for three consecutive days, the first day begins with a community prayer at the Mosque. It is customary for Muslims to wear new clothes, visit families and friends and exchange greetings. The ‘Eid lunch’ is generally a grand affair with all members of extended families getting together to rejoice. The evening of the second day is usually reserved for visitors who may include colleagues, friends and well-wishers of all faiths. Clubs, associations and other voluntary organisations, irrespective of their religious following usually organise special events to mark Eid Al Fitr. These would include performing artists from Egypt, Lebanon, India or other countries depending on the initiative of the organisers. Government and private buildings including homes, parks and gardens and other places of congregation are colourfully lit to indicate the time of joy. All three days of Eid Al Fitr are public holidays in the Arab world, although some private companies resume work on the third day in some countries.
The Holy Month will culminate in Eid-Al-Fitr on or about August 30, when men, women and children would wish each other, observing three days of festivities.
The Muslim community in New Zealand, comprising citizens, migrants and visitors is also observing Ramadan as its members congregate in mosques for daily prayers and take up social work after dusk.
The Holy Month reminds them of their duties towards the Almighty Allah, towards their family, the community, the country and most important of all, to themselves.
While Islamic countries impose a ‘dawn-to-dusk’ ban on eating, drinking and smoking in public places during the Holy Month of Ramadan (in fact, all restaurants, take-away outlets and others are closed during daylight hours throughout the month in these countries), no such proscription exists in non-Muslim countries such as New Zealand.
“Which is why,” says a senior member of the community, “the responsibility rests more on the individual to observe the tenets of Islam. It may appear tough to abstain from eating, drinking and smoking when those around you do so but that is precisely the spirit of Ramadan-to ward off temptation and abstain.”
It is interesting to note that like all other Muslim observances, the Holy Month of Ramadan also advances each year by about ten days. Fasting in the countries of the Arab Gulf, when Ramadan occurs during summer (June to September) could be extremely tough.
“It is indeed a test of endurance-the days are longer, extending the hours of fasting.
“While residents of the region today enjoy the comfort of air-conditioning, the period preceding the boom of the 1970s was a challenge and yet Muslims observed the ‘fasting rule,’ going without even a drop of water to drink from dawn to dusk,” he said.