Tarique Anwar, BeyondHeadlines
New Delhi: Muslims in India are all set to welcome the noblest month of Ramadan, which begins Tuesday and coincides with the dog days of summer. While the date is fitting—Ramadan means “hot season” in Arabic—it may test many Muslims like rarely before, as the long summer days push the ritual evening meal at around 7 p.m (IST).
In Bangalore and in the Gulf, Ramadan began on August 1. As the piquant smell of fruits and appetizing aroma of pakodas approach us there are some things that make the month special, other than the crowd in markets and the evening feasts.
Every year, Ramadan begins 11 days earlier than the year before, with the cycle repeating roughly every three decades. Between now and the Eid holiday that marks the end of fasting, daylight hours will stretch 15 hours on average—the longest days seen in 26 years.
Many Muslims have taken pains in recent weeks to prepare themselves for the month of fasting and reflection, during which they must abstain from consuming anything, even water, between dawn and dusk. Some have been steeling themselves with daylong practice fasts.
Others say they will shift their work schedules, plan meals ahead of time, stay out of the heat, shower more frequently and nap in the afternoon.
The holy month is a time for worshipping. According to Islamic teachings fasting cleanses the inner soul and helps one to be self-disciplined, it also encourages charity and generosity. By fasting one understands or feels the hardship of less fortunate people in the world. During Ramadan, Muslims all over the globe embark on a month (around 29 or 30 days) of abstinence from food, drink, smoking and sexual activity during daylight hours.
For Muslims it is time for self-reform through prayer, charity and supplication. They are encouraged to read the entire Quran during the month, as it is believed that during Ramadan, Jibril (Gabriel), the messenger angel came every night to Prophet Mohammed and recited the holy Quran.
It is mandatory on all Muslims to observe fasting and continue as long as they are healthy except when they are critically ill or are on a journey. Childrens are also exempted from fasting.
Sawm (fasting) is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam. Among other things, it gives Muslims the opportunity to become spiritually stronger, to learn and develop self-discipline and to appreciate God’s gifts to mankind.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Because Islam uses a lunar calendar, the month of Ramadan begins at a different time each year.
Fasting is considered as an integral part of many of the major religions, including Islam, Judaism and Christianity. These religious teachings believe that fasting can also do wonders in the healing process of the body. The most scientifically proven advantage to fasting is the feeling of rejuvenation and extended life expectancy.
The extended life expectancy is a result of some inner and healthy changes in the body like slower metabolic rate, more efficient protein production, an improved immune system, and the increased production of hormones. The unused fat reserves in our body are used during fast for energy production. This helps weight management, lowering lipids, lowering of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol and resting of the digestive tract.
The holy month is also related to many remarkable events in the Islamic history. During the month of Ramadan in the year 610 AD when Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was 40 years of age and was passing the month in meditation in Mount Hira, he had a vision of an angel, Jibril, who revealed the first few verses of Quran to the Prophet. It is considered that this happened on “the night of decree or measures” or Lailatul-Qadr, which is considered the most holy night of the year.
The Battle of Badr was fought in Ramadan of 624 AD. Muslims also pay tribute and hold special prayers on Ramadan day 17 to remember the martyrs of the battle. It is one of the few battles specifically mentioned in the Quran.
Shiites (Shia Muslims) also commemorate the attack on Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib and his subsequent martyrdom every year on the 19th, 21st and 23rd days of Ramadan.
The month has social importance too as Muslims prepare special foods and buy gifts for their family and friends and for giving to the poor and the needy who cannot afford them. As the sun sets there is a special feast and the entire family gathers for the meal to break the fast, known as Iftar.
The meal starts with the eating of date and drinking water just as Prophet Mohammed (PUBH) used to do. Then is the time for Magrib prayer which is the fourth of the five daily prayers. Nowadays Iftar has almost grown to banquet celebrations as friends, relatives and communities join for the feast. Mosques also arrange Iftar at the premises for those who come for praying and for poor.
Special prayers called Tarawih are held in mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Qur’an is recited.
Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, one of the two most important Islamic celebrations. Eid arrives after 29 or 30 days of fasting, depending on the sighting of the moon.
As in any other religion Islam also considers charity as the base for the philosophy behind fasting in Ramadan. It creates a kind of empathy for the hungry and one learns to control oneself till Iftar. Zakat is the obligatory charity and the third pillar of Islam, paid to poor particularly during Ramadan. According to Prophet Muhammad ‘A man’s wealth is never diminished by charity’.
According to Islam it is compulsory on those who can afford it to give charity or Zakat, and it is a sin not to give it. A special prayer is held on Eid in the morning to thank God.
Ramadan refines manners in people particularly of truthfulness and faith. The real essence of Ramadan lies in adopting the virtues and devotion acquired during the holy month in our daily lives and carrying the same throughout our existence.