This is the holy month when Muslims, about one fifth of the world’s population, undergo a rigorous fast (not even a drop of water or spittle passes their throats).From dawn to dusk each day this month, Muslims do not eat, drink, smoke, use perfume or apply leeches and abstain from conjugal relations. Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Muslim lunar year, a month of sacrifice and humility during which conscientious observance of every divine commandment marks a high water mark in the lives of every Muslim.
Muslims around the world take a journey within – to discover their inner strengths and strive zealously to subjugate their evil instincts. It is abstinence in its literal, metaphorical and allegorical sense. As one of the five pillars of Islam, the lesson in abstinence is not simply one of refraining from the physical gratification of drinking, eating, or smoking. Muslims are also urged to exercise restraint in their thoughts and actions, to express empathy for those less fortunate and to get closer in their religious practice to God.
The start of the month is reckoned in the traditional way by groups of folks going out in the evening to look for the new moon by the naked eye. At sundown, as glow worms wink good-bye against an inky blue sky, all eyes squint skywards in search of the crescent moon heralding the beginning of Ramadan. A fine haze stands above the vast plain, filtering through its screen the last roseate hue of the sinking sun. The sun has gone down, the evening mellowed by the soft amber of the setting sun. The russet sky turns grey as shades of twilight spread across the plain. The smog has cleared enough for a bone –white sliver of moon to flicker like a pared fingernail briefly through a film of dust and cloud in the sky. The first glint of the new moon has a special significance and people offer supplications with cupped palms.
As news of the sighting of the moon spreads there is a flush of excitement. The crowd points excitedly. “There it is. It is at hand!” .There is a flush of excitement as others also see it. They offer supplication with outstretched palms. A few minutes later, before the local halal committee (a group of clerics who take a final decision on the sighting of moon) of the city, they testify to what they have seen. “The new moon is at hand,” they say. “We have seen it.” The leaders accept the testimony. The lights glow out of the minarets and domes. .It is a sign that Ramadan has begun. The mantle of the night spreads like a canopy as a million stars of variable brilliance chip from the new moon and spangle the dark sky In Middle East countries, Ramadan is heralded by the boom of cannons.
The rules of Ramadan are fairly straightforward: for one month, all practicing, able-bodied Muslims over the age of 12 are forbidden to eat or drink from sunup to sundown. Muslims believe that during this month the gates of hell close — meaning the devil is unable to tempt them during a month of discipline, charity and self-control. The objective of the fast, which also prohibits participating in “sensual pleasures” such as smoking, sex and even listening to music during daylight hours, is to diminish believers’ dependence on material goods, purify their hearts and establish solidarity with the poor to encourage charitable works during the year. It’s as much a period of self-growth as of self-denial: Muhammad reportedly said, “He who does not abandon falsehood in word and action in accordance with fasting, God has no need that he should abandon his food and drink.”
The origin of the word Ramadan comes from the classical Arabic root, ramida ,ar-ramad or ramdaa, meaning scorching heat or dryness – believed to be either in reference to the heat of thirst and hunger or because fasting burns away one’s past sins. The first Ramadan is thought to have occurred during the middle of summer. In other words, Ramadan is a month meant to purify the body of toxins and the soul of the lavish desires of life, such as greed, hatred and malice. This period is called Ramazan in Iran and Turkey and Ramadan in the Indian subcontinent.
The month of Ramadan is further divided into three parts, consisting of ten days each. Each ten day period is referred to as ashra, which is the Arabic word for ten. These three parts are the Rahmah (God’s mercy), Maghfirah (God’s forgiveness), and Najah (salvation). The first 10 days of the month of Ramadan are dedicated to mercy from Allah. The next 10 days focus on forgiveness from Allah and the last 10 on freedom from Hell Fire.
Ramadan commemorates the time when Quran was first revealed to Prophet Mohammad about 1,400 years ago through the angel Gabriel. This revelation was the final link in the chain of divine communication, which includes the Commandments of Moses, the Psalms of David, the Scrolls of Abraham and the Gospel of Jesus.
Ramadan lasts for 29 or 30 days, starting with the sighting of the new moon. The actual night on which the Qur’an was revealed is called Laylat ul Qadr (Night of Power). It is a very auspicious night and to stand in prayer on this one night is said to be better than a thousand months of worship. . It is in the last ten days of Ramadan that the “Night of Glory” (or “Power”) falls when God is believed to be releasing the greatest number of souls from Hell. Since it has never been revealed which particular night is the Night of Glory, Moslems must be strict in their religious observances on all ten nights. Because the faithful do their work by day, eat, drink and pray by night, they have little time for sleep and as Ramadan progresses become increasingly fretful.The Qur’an provides a vivid account of this night.
“We have indeed revealed this (message) in the Night of Power: And what will explain to you what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the Angels and the Spirit (Gabriel) by Allah’s permission, on every errand: Peace! This until the rise of Morn!” (Surah 97) he night between the 26th and 27th days of Ramadan, is possibly the night of Laylat Al Qadr during which, according to the Quran, God determines the course of the world for the following year. Muslims pay attention to the odd numbered days like the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th and 29th because it is most likely to be on one of them. The Prophet advised believers to spent those last ten days at the mosque in vigil (i’tikaf) retreating to the hermitage of the God’s house and pray throughout the night, for partaking of the blessings of the holy night.
Fasting or sawm is one of the vital pillars of Islam. Sawm is derived from the root sama which means `to abstain’ – Although ?awm is most commonly understood as the obligation to fast during Ramadan, it is more broadly interpreted as the obligation to refrain between dawn and dusk from food, drink, sexual activity, and all forms of immoral behaviour, including impure or unkind thoughts. Thus, false words or bad deeds or intentions are as destructive of a fast as is eating or drinking. As Lent may be prescribed for Christians and Yom Kippur for those of the Jewish faith, Ramadan is an eagerly awaited interval for Muslims to utilise the absence of food, drink and other luxuries, as an opportunity to concentrate on prayer, meditation and worship. This in turn encourages greater reflection on life itself and appreciation for the resources we sometimes take for granted
The Quran further states: “You who believe? Fasting is prescribed for you, even as it was prescribed for those before you, so perchance you may attain God-consciousness.” (2:183) .The rules of Ramadan are fairly straightforward: for one month, all practicing, able-bodied Muslims over the age of 12 are forbidden to eat or drink from sunup to sundown, from that time in the morning when a white thread can be distinguished from a black one, until the hour of the evening when neither can be seen.
The Prophet Mohammed said “God would make fast an ease and not a difficulty,” and exempted the old, the sick, the pregnant, nursing mothers, and wayfarers. Children are not required to fast until they reach the Age of Responsibility (twelve years for girls; fifteen years for boys). Children from the ages of six to eight may fast for half the day, gradually increasing the duration until old enough to fully observe the fast.
The Quran states:”But if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (of Ramadan days) should be made up from days later. For those who cannot do this except with hardship is a ransom: the feeding of one that is indigent…. Allah intends every ease for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties….” – (Q 2:184-185)