The Holy Month of Ramadan will begin on or about June 6, 2016, with Muslims the world over fasting from dawn to dusk and observing the general rules of abstinence. The Holy Month will culminate in Eid-Al-Fitr when men, women and children wish each other, observing three days of festivities.
Duty towards all
The Muslim community in New Zealand, comprising citizens, migrants and visitors will observe Ramadan as they 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, 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,” a Muslim leader said.
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,” another community leader said.
What is Ramadan? Why do Muslims fast during this month? What is the significance of the teachings of the Holy Quran?
These are some of the questions which non-Muslims ask, although many Hindus and Jews would understand the meaning and spirit instantly.
While the elders of the former community still observe fast during certain days of the month every year, devout Jews mark at least seven days in a calendar year for fasting. Public health practitioners and fitness specialists would say it is a good idea to fast at regular intervals but the religious connotations loom larger.
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 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 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.
Importance of 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: